TEL AVIV – The IDF’s new cyber division, aimed at defending against cyberattacks on critical infrastructure, is more important than the establishment of commando brigades, a high-ranking IDF commander said.
So far, the army’s cyber arm comprises eight special units designed to defend against cyberattacks on essential infrastructure such as water and electric grids, as well as banking and cellular networks.
The cyber teams were established as a preemptive measure following major cyberattacks abroad, including a three-month offensive against Turkish banks, the takedown of Turkish internet services for a 20-hour period, and the attack on Ukraine’s electric grid resulting in the closure of Kiev’s international airport.
“These incidents actually occurred following a relatively calm year with regard to cyber [attacks], and came against the backdrop of the nuclear deal with Iran,” the commander noted, adding that “cyber has become a legitimate tool” in modern warfare.
According to the commander, Israel is one of the most advanced countries in the field of cyber technology, along with the U.S., Iran, Germany, and Britain.
“We have established these mixed IDF units, which will multiply and grow over the coming years, so that if we have a ‘cybernetic September 11,’ we won’t have to ask questions,” he said. “We are more bothered by the cyber threats to our national infrastructure than we are by attacks on the army. What happens if Ben Gurion International Airport is shut down or we lose internet access?”
The commander revealed that until now there have been no hacks of any of the IDF’s operational system, which mostly operates on internal networks. However, he did say that there were increasing attempts to gather intelligence on critical defense systems such as the Trophy – an APS that intercepts missiles and rockets by blasting them out of the air.
IDF Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot’s decision to launch the army’s cyber division last year coincided with the formation of the National Cyber Bureau in the Prime Minister’s Office, whose purpose is to guide government policy on cyber defense.
Israel’s own cyber capabilities are a hotly debated topic. In 2011, the New York Times claimed that the Stuxnet computer virus was part of a joint U.S.-Israel operation to undermine Iran’s nuclear aspirations. Last year, Israel spied on nuclear talks between Iran and world powers in Europe by planting a virus in the luxury hotels hosting the talks.