Expert: Israel fares well in Cyber Defense

Washington, Mar. 21 - Israel has particular advantages in combating cyber-terrorism but also has vulnerabilities linked to its robust high-tech sector, cyber-terror expert Yael Shahar said Wednesday.

“This is not something that’s a strategic threat to Israel,” Shahar said in an interview with The Israel Project.

As the director for Open-Source Intelligence and Database Projects at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center, a private university in Israel, Shahar lectures on terrorism trends, non-conventional terrorism, and threat assessment.

Shahar said that Israel, which has been in a perpetual war since its founding in 1948, has protected critical infrastructure like military installations from electronic and physical attack. Yet she cautioned that the country’s reliance on its booming high-tech sector could spell trouble in a concerted cyber attack.

“Any attack that significantly affects Israel’s ability to export high-tech or attract customers is going to be a problem,” she said.

Saudi hackers have been implicated or claimed credit for minor attacks on the Israeli stock exchange website and the national airline El-Al. In early January, Israeli officials confirmed that at least 20,000 Israelis were victims of a cyber attacks that revealed their credit card information.

Shahar said that while the attacks may continue, they were largely symbolic and did not pose a major threat to Israeli security.

“Most of them are brute force attacks,” she said. “They’re nothing more than the equivalent of writing graffiti on the walls of the Israeli embassy in cyberspace.”

Shahar also touched on Stuxnet, the computer virus first discovered in June 2010 that infected Iran’s enrichment centrifuges and delayed the uranium enrichment processes many suspected were part of efforts toward a nuclear weapon. Many international observers suspect Stuxnet was a project coordinated between the United States and Israel, though officials in both countries have denied the claim.

Shahar compared Stuxnet to the first use of aircraft in warfare during World War I. While cyberwarfare, like aerial bombing assaults, cannot decisively win conflicts, they serve as an effective part of the operation, Shahar said.

“In the case of Stuxnet, it was a delaying tactic,” she said, adding that the possibility of Iran manipulating the media was more of a concern in a conflict with the West over its nuclear program.

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