A few days ago, Uzi Moscovitch, chief of the Center for Computer and Information Systems in the Israeli Computer Services Directorate, surprised security circles by declaring that Israel is preparing for information warfare with Palestinians and Arabs by establishing a new operations room to monitor and curb cyberattacks in an orderly manner.
This is a clear indication that Palestinian hackers have managed to inflict serious damage on Israel, which was unable to fire any bullets or missiles in retaliation for this cyberattack, which Israel has dubbed the hackers shadow war.
While talk grows in Israel of the Palestinian cyberwar currently raging, it has become clear that Israel is suffering from many attacks designed to cripple its websites and computer networks. Israel is primarily concerned because it has found itself unable to fight back with its state-of-the-art weaponry. It also fears that it will be incessantly subjected to similar attacks in the future.
Moreover, Israel now has to fight wars with Palestine on more than one front — including marine, land and aerial attacks, and now cyberattacks. The Internet has become the real battlefield, where Palestinian hackers have the upper hand. Israel ought to better invest in developing computerized defense systems to block the countless cyberattacks launched against its networks and computers.
Tel Aviv is preparing for this information warfare, fearing a cyberonslaught that could cripple its systems during critical periods, especially since Palestinians have managed to take control of Israel’s cyberspace many times in recent years. The Israeli army will have to spend millions of shekels to establish new computerized defensive systems against this war, where the “brightest mind shall win.”
Continuous cyberattacks by Palestinians against Israeli networks and cyberspace will push Israel to launch a full-scale investigation into the hacking operations, as Palestinian hackers have broken into a 30MB database, containing detailed information on 400 Israelis, including their names, telephone numbers, addresses and credit card numbers.
This has been considered the biggest information leak in Israeli history, pushing the Israeli National Cyber Bureau to coordinate defense operations and develop systems for protection.
It should be noted that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have been working for many years to prepare hundreds of soldiers for electronic warfare. However, they used to focus on the military and security aspects, without paying much heed to the Israeli defense systems. This is especially true as many Palestinians and Arab hackers have previously attempted to break into governmental security networks. Israel feared that its infrastructure might be dealt a “fatal blow.”
Palestinian hackers will continue to break into Israel’s databases unless Israel is able to develop its computerized defense system. However, Israel fails to understand that in the era of technology, each defensive system has a latent way for armament. There is also the so-called “biometric inventory,” which is considered to be a loophole that allows hackers to launch more attacks.
While fighting against cyberattacks, Israel — a global superpower — has faced two major problems. First, everything in Israel is run by computerized networks, and it would be difficult to determine the priorities of defense. For instance, if the the electricity network, the banking system, or the stock market was attacked, other networks would be directly affected, as they all operate based on foreign telecommunication systems, making it harder to provide protection to all networks.
This has pushed prominent General Staff leaders to admit their fears about the possibility that Hamas might be able to track down IDF members through social networking, or bring down the computerized military system, or worse still, access confidential information.
The IDF is taking this issue very seriously and seeks to fight against it through the Information Technology Division, which is directly responsible for protecting systems against hackers’ attacks. Also, many changes have been made to the military network over the past few years so military documents can be safely removed in the event of a cyberattack.
The cyberonslaught carried out by “vulnerable” Palestinians against “powerful” Israel has pushed the latter to form a special body charged with confronting cyberattacks. Israel fears that Palestinian hackers might break into Israeli websites in order to cripple the country’s vital infrastructure, especially electricity, water and telecommunication.
The IDF has gathered a team of 300 hackers to fight against cyberattacks, amid growing fears that civil and military networks could be hit, in light of the many attacks that have been launched against Israeli networks in recent weeks.
The Israeli government has also established a special unit charged with improving defense systems and enhancing relations between military defense systems and tech companies, costing Israel millions of dollars.
The growing cyberattacks against Israeli sites and networks can cripple the country’s water and electricity grids and banking system. Most importantly, Israel would find itself paralyzed and unable to use its highly advanced weaponry in the event of a cyberwar.
Adnan Abu Amer is Dean of the Faculty of Arts and head of the Press and Information Section as well as a lecturer in the history of the Palestinian issue, national security, political science and Islamic civilization at Al Ummah University Open Education. He has published a number of books on issues related to the contemporary history of the Palestinian cause and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Follow him on Twitter @adnanabuamer1.