In Unusual Announcement, Israel Reveals It Thwarted Major Cyberattack

Announcement about attack aimed at 120 targets just days after harsh criticism of new cyber defense legislation

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Cyber Tech conference in January.
Eyal Toueg

UPDATE: Israel believes foreign nation directed thwarted cyberattack

Israel thwarted a major attack on the country’s computer networks in recent days. The Cyber Defense Authority was responsible for defending against the attacks, the Prime Minister's Office said in a highly unusual announcement on Wednesday.

The notice from the PMO comes only two days after the heads of the Shin Bet security service, the Mossad and the IDF’s deputy chief of staff, along with other senior defense officials, wrote a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, warning that the numerous powers given to the Cyber Defense Authority could hamper the ability to thwart cyber attacks on Israel.

The announcement says that in recent days, the Cyber Defense Authority had fielded warnings of a massive planned cyber attack on Israel. This analysis also applied to the means the attackers might use. The attack was conducted by mimicking a legitimate organization, though the Cyber Defense Authority did not name names.

Malicious emails were sent from what turned out to be the servers of an academic institution and private a company to 120 Israeli institutions, government offices and individuals. The attackers tried to exploit a vulnerability in Microsoft Word.

Following the attack, the Cyber Defense Authority published directives for all Israelis and institutions, private and public, on its website on how to foil it.

Microsoft has meanwhile issued a security update to defend against the problem. The Cyber Defense Authority suggests implementing its recommendations as soon as possible.

In their letter to Netanyahu, the senior defense officials ask him to halt the the legislation of the bill and formulate a new version.

 “The draft bill seeks to grant extensive powers to the Cyber Authority, whose purpose has not been clearly defined, and it could seriously harm the core security activity of the security community in the cyber field,” said the letter signed by Shin Bet security service head Nadav Argaman, Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, Deputy Chief of General Staff Maj. Gen. Yair Golan (who is responsible for cyber defense issues in the army) and Defense Ministry Director General Udi Adam.

The bill seeks to regulate the activity of the Cyber Defense Authority, which was established by the cabinet two years ago. Buky Carmeli, the head of Cyber Authority, says the focus of the new law is on issuing protection guidelines to thousands of companies, organizations and public agencies to help them prevent cyberattacks, as well as establishing regulations for the cybersecurity and emergency management.