Editorial |

Israel's Cyber Home Front Is Vulnerable

Haaretz Editorial
The offices of Shirbit, which suffered a major cyber attack, in Netanya, December 12, 2020.
The offices of Shirbit, which suffered a major cyber attack, in Netanya, December 12, 2020.Credit: Avishag Shaar-Yashuv
Haaretz Editorial

In recent days, several major cybersecurity incidents have been reported in Israel.

The Shirbit insurance company suffered a cyberattack that involved leaked information and attempted extortion. The software firm Amital Data suffered a cybertheft that exposed information about some 40 customers, all international logistics companies. And Sunday, news broke about a cyberattack on Habana Labs, a semiconductor company that is currently part of Intel. The attackers apparently stole very valuable intellectual property from the company.

Israel isn’t alone; there has been a rise in cyberattacks worldwide. This is partly due to the coronavirus crisis and the financial distress it has caused both individuals and countries. Programmers who have lost their jobs have sometimes fallen into the arms of online criminal organizations.

But the rise in attacks on Israel is also due to the geopolitical situation. Over the last year, Israel has entered an online war with Iran. It began with an Iranian attack on Israeli water facilities in April. Even though the attack didn’t cause significant damage, Israel decided to respond forcefully, with a cyberattack that paralyzed the Iranian port of Shahid Rajaee for several days.

Now, Israelis have discovered that Iran also has sophisticated cyberattack capabilities, and it is utilizing them. Its motivation to attack Israel has only risen recently due to the assassination of its nuclear program’s top scientist. The offensive is being spearheaded by the Iranian group Pay2Key, which, according to the cybersecurity firm Check Point, managed to attack 12 Israeli companies in a single week. And those are only the incidents we know about.

Israel, as usual, entered the cyberwar with a certain amount of arrogance, assuming that it had better cyberattack capabilities and that its cybersecurity home front was prepared and protected. But that isn’t the case, as the incidents of the past several days have proven. In fact, even though some of the world’s biggest cybersecurity companies are Israeli, Israel’s economy has poor cyber defenses. This is due to both a lack of funding and an Israeli management culture of “it won’t happen to me.”

The National Cyber Directorate, with an annual budget of 250 million shekels ($77 million) and a staff of 350, so far hasn’t managed to change the situation. The many other agencies dealing with cybersecurity issues – from the police to a designated minister for digital matters – also haven’t done enough to help businesses, which have been left vulnerable.

The businesses that have been hurt by cyberattacks aren’t the guilty parties; they are the victims, and the state must protect them. But the state isn’t prepared to do so. Business must take their fate into their own hands and beef up their cyberdefense systems. In the current situation, they have nobody to rely on but themselves.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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