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February 17, 2016 4:20 pm

IDF Forms Special Units to Prepare for Cyber Attacks Against Israel’s Civilian Infrastructure

avatar by Eliezer Sherman

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Israel Prime Minister's Office establishes new National Cyber Bureau. Photo: IDF

Israel Army computer operators. The IDF established a cyber division whose responsibilities will be to defend against cyberattacks on vital Israeli infrastructure. Photo: IDF

The IDF has put together special units within its new cyber arm whose job it is to repulse attacks against Israeli infrastructure during emergencies, the Israeli news site nrg reported on Wednesday.

The units, comprising regular and reserves soldiers, will be tasked with protecting civilian systems like the electric grid, water and nationwide banking and cellular phone networks, according to the report.

The impetus for putting the cyber teams together stemmed from two recent cyber attacks abroad, according to nrg: one that took down the Internet in Turkey for 20 hours, alongside a sustained three-month offensive against Turkish banks, and a nearly week-long suspension of about a third of Ukraine’s electric grid over Christmas and the closure of the international airport in Kiev for two days.

“There’s no such thing as chance and cyber has become a legitimate tool,” a senior IDF commander said, according to nrg. “These incidents actually occurred following a relatively calm year with regard to cyber [attacks], and came on the backdrop of the nuclear deal with Iran.”

“We put together IDF intervention units, which will double in size in the coming years, so that if we have a ‘cybernetic September 11,’ they won’t ask questions,” he said. “We’re more worried about the cyber threat against [civilian] infrastructure than the army. What will happen if Ben Gurion International Airport is shut down or we’re without the Internet?”

The commander noted that IDF Chief of General Staff Maj. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot’s decision to launch the cyber division was among his most important since assuming his role last year. The IDF cyber arm was formed alongside the National Cyber Bureau in the Prime Minister’s Office, which was founded to guide government policy on cyber defense.

Israel’s own cyber capabilities have been widely speculated, including attacks against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure several years ago, as well as spying on the nuclear talks between Iran and world powers in Europe last year. In January 2014, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched CyberSpark, a hub in the southern city of Beersheva, which would unite the military with the private and public sectors in cyber development.

Israel has also been the target of attacks, however.  Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz announced last month that the Public Utility Authority was attacked during a spate of cold weather, though the offensive was repelled by the National Cyber Bureau and Steinitz’s ministry, according to reports.

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