Too Many Cyber-cooks in the Kitchen

Cyber attacks have caused major malfunctions in Estonia, Ukraine, Georgia and Iran. Despite world-class computer security systems, there is no guarantee that Israel won't be targeted as well.

There is no shortage of institutions in Israel involved in preventing cyber warfare. For years, the Shin Bet security service has operated a national authority for information protection, which teaches organizations and companies that have networks of information deemed strategically important how to protect them from attack. It's done quite a good job of it.

Within the IDF, two branches (and their commanders ), intelligence and computer systems, have been competing for top ranking in the field. A fickle boundary appears to separate protection of the army's computer networks from external hackers, on the one hand, and intelligence attacks and intelligence collection undertaken by Israeli cyber warriors, on the other hand.

Soldiers in a command center.
Hagai Frid

The police also operate a special unit for investigating computer-related crimes, and the Finance Ministry, by virtue of its responsibility for government computer systems, is also active in the field. The National Emergency Authority (that operates under the auspices of the superfluous ministry headed by Matan Vilnai ) is involved in preparing for an Internet catastrophe. And hovering over them all is a special committee within the National Security Council that is meant to outline policy, and in particular, determine which organizations receive protection against cyber attacks (in some cases, protection that is imposed on them ).

In addition, there is the private sector, with several high-tech companies that rank as world leaders in providing solutions to secure computers and their networks.

How ironic is it, then, that of all people, Benjamin Netanyahu, who envisioned and established the National Security Council during his previous stint in the Prime Minister's Office, is now undermining it by establishing yet another institution that will operate in the same field - a national cyber headquarters. Aside from more political infighting and power struggles, it is not clear what this new creature will contribute to the existing array of institutions active in the field. But Netanyahu wants to be like heads of other Western states who have already established such organizations and invested billions in them. He has taken his cue from David Cameron, the British prime minister and public relations master, who carried out a similar move several months ago. But prior to establishing the cyber headquarters, Israel's situation was far better than Britain's - a country which in recent years has suffered several embarrassing breaches of its national data base.It seems, though, that nothing improves a prime minister's popularity more than making an ostentatious move under a public relations friendly title.

There is no need for a new organization. What is needed is swift revisions to the law that would apply to private companies that control a large share of the national-strategic infrastructures. These amendments should ensure that companies like these, which control services and data bases deemed critical to the public's welfare - cellular phone operators, Internet companies and private banks, for example - comply with more stringent standards of information security.

Not only the government and the defense establishment deserve protection. So do ordinary citizens. For that reason, the police need to receive better resources to prevent invasion of privacy, as well as identity and credit card theft by criminal organizations. A national emergency plan for coping with widespread computer malfunctioning is also necessary.

Cellcom's major malfunction half a year ago, which caused millions of Israelis to be cut off for a day from their cellular oxygen supplies, is but one small example of such a glitch. What caused the recent air fuel contamination at Ben-Gurion Airport is still unclear, as are the reasons Kiryat Motzkin's water supply was polluted. All these incidents may have been caused by the deliberate sabotage of computer systems, and worse could happen.

Cyber attacks have caused major malfunctions in Estonia, Ukraine, Georgia and Iran. Despite world-class computer security systems, there is no guarantee that Israel won't be targeted as well.