Compiled by Lisa Phillips of OpDeepState.com
Please note: This is only one example of the blackmail, coercion and control of US politicians at the state and local level by the Israeli-Russians.
The City of New Orleans has suffered a cybersecurity attack serious enough for Mayor LaToya Cantrell to declare a state of emergency.
December 14, 2019
by Dave Winder
The attack started at 5 a.m. CST on Friday, December 13, according to the City of New Orleans’ emergency preparedness campaign, NOLA Ready, managed by the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. NOLA Ready tweeted that “suspicious activity was detected on the City’s network,” and as investigations progressed, “activity indicating a cybersecurity incident was detected around 11 a.m.” As a precautionary measure, the NOLA tweet confirmed, the city’s IT department gave the order for all employees to power down computers and disconnect from Wi-Fi. All city servers were also powered down, and employees told to unplug any of their devices.
State of emergency declared by City of New Orleans
During a press conference, Mayor Cantrell confirmed that this was a ransomware attack. A declaration of a state of emergency was filed with the Civil District Court in connection with the incident.
NOLA Ready said that emergency communications had not been affected. Although the “Real-Time Crime Center” had been powered down, public safety cameras were still recording, and incident footage would be available if needed. The police and fire departments continued to operate as usual, and the ability to respond to 911 calls was not impacted.
nformation is still scarce, while both the investigation, involving both State and Federal agencies, and the recovery process continue. It’s not known what ransomware malware was used during the attack, and Mayor Cantrell has said that no ransom demand has been made at this point in time.
On October 2, the FBI issued a high-impact cyber-attack warning in response to attacks on state and local government targets. This warned that health care organizations, industrial companies, and the transportation sector were also being targeted. Meanwhile, the attacks against government targets continue.
Ransomware attacks against government targets
The ransomware attack that has hit New Orleans follows another that targeted the state of Louisiana in November. Louisiana school district computers were also taken offline, and a state of emergency declared, in response to a ransomware attack in July. It isn’t yet known if the two were connected. However, in August, 23 government agencies were taken offline by a cyber-attack on the State of Texas. Which suggests that U.S. municipalities are firmly in the crosshairs of ransomware threat actors.
Colin Bastable, CEO of security awareness training company Lucy Security, said that “state and local government is woefully vulnerable to phishing-led hacking, primarily because CISOs focus on technological defenses when they should also be patching their colleagues with regular simulated ransomware attacks and security awareness training.”
“The problem with ransomware attacks is that they are not always immediately apparent,” Bastable said, “the attack can be undetected for a relatively long time before being triggered.” The New Orleans attack could well have been “initiated in parallel with the recent Louisiana attack,” according to Bastable.
Gov. John Bel Edwards returns from Israel; See who joined him on the trip
November 2, 2019
by Elizabeth Crisp
Gov. John Bel Edwards has returned to Louisiana after a week-long trip to Israel, promoting partnership and trade opportunities between the state and Middle Eastern country.
Edwards, who arrived in Israel on Saturday, returned to New Orleans on Friday after an over-night flight from Tel Aviv. He immediately departed the airport for a survey by helicopter of areas affected by severe weather this week while he was out of the country.
The week-long trip included meetings with business leaders and government officials, as well as stops at some of the Israel’s iconic cultural and historical sites. Edwards, an Army veteran, also took part in security briefings with the Israel Defense Forces at outposts near the Gaza Strip and along the Syrian border.
An hour-long meeting with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was a capstone of the trip that Edwards said demonstrated the level of importance of the Louisiana delegation’s efforts.
A chief priority of the trip was to foster potential partnerships on priorities to benefit Israel and Louisiana, including water management.
Israel is seen as a world leader in cybersecurity — an emerging sector in Louisiana that Edwards has placed particular emphasis on during his first term in office.
Edwards, who took office in January 2016, currently serves as co-chairman of the National Governors Association’s Resource Center for State Cybersecurity with Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. The NGA’s national cybersecurity conference will be held in Shreveport-Bossier City in May 2019. Over the course of his trip, Edwards frequently asked public and private cybersecurity leaders in Israel to take part in the event. He mentioned it to Netanyahu, as well.
The Israel trip was Edwards’ third major trip out of the country as governor. He previously traveled to Cuba to discuss trade opportunities and to the Vatican City on an anti-human trafficking mission.
He joins a long list of governors who have made recent trips to Israel, including Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, all Republicans.
Here is everyone who went on Edwards’ trip to Israel:
- Gov. John Bel Edwards
- First lady Donna Edwards
- Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne
- Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Don Pierson
- Louisiana National Guard Adjutant General Glenn Curtis (Co-chair of Cybersecurity Commission)
- Jeff Moulton, executive director of LSU Stephenson Center for Security Research and Training (Member of Cybersecurity Commission)
- Richard Carbo, governor’s deputy chief of staff
- Tyler Walker, governor’s digital media
- LED International Commerce director Larry Collins
- LED International Commerce project manager Jessica Steverson
- Baton Rouge Area Foundation President and CEO John Davies
- Hans Sternberg, Highflyer HR CEO
- Donna Sternberg, Highflyer HR Executive VP, AIPAC National Board Member
- Jeff McLeod, National Governor’s Association director of Homeland Security and Public Safety (assigned to NGA’s cybersecurity effort co-chaired by Edwards)
- Port of New Orleans President and CEO Brandy Christian
- Port of New Orleans VP Robert Landry
- Sharon Courtney, Tulane University VP of Government & Community Relations
- Water Institute President and CEO Justin Ehrenwerth
- Water Institute VP for Science Alyssa Dausman
- Advocate reporter Elizabeth Crisp
- WAFB reporter Matt Houston
- 3 State Troopers working security detail
Putin’s Top Spy: We’re Teaming Up With D.C. on Cybersecurity
Behind-the-scenes cooperation with U.S. agencies, particularly on cybercrime and terrorism, is a theme the Kremlin likes to push onto center stage. Trump likes it, too.
November 4, 2019
by Amy Knight
Following a recent conference of foreign security and law enforcement agencies, the head of Russia’s State Security Service, the FSB, made the surprising announcement that Russia and the United States have resumed cooperation on cybersecurity.
“We are maintaining working contacts by our experts and special unit heads with the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Agency,” said Gen. Alexander Bortnikov, noting that such contacts should always occur, regardless of the foreign policy situation.
Behind-the-scenes cooperation with the Trump administration, particularly when it comes to cybercrime and terrorism, is a theme the Kremlin likes to push onto center stage every so often. And according to our sources there is indeed some consultation at a practical level, but for Washington’s intelligence professionals it’s a very delicate, very dangerous game, complicated enormously by the inclinations and prejudices of President Donald J. Trump.
In response to queries about Bortnikov’s statement, spokespersons for both the CIA and the DEA told The Daily Beast that they had no comment, and the FBI has not responded at all.
Michael Daniel, CEO of the Cyber Threat Alliance, who was coordinator of cybersecurity strategy on President Barack Obama’s National Security Council from 2012 to 2017, commented in an email to The Daily Beast that “the U.S. and Russia do have some areas of common interest in cybersecurity where limited cooperation might be beneficial,” and cited the exchange of information on cybercriminals who target both Americans and Russians. Daniel cautioned, however, that “given Russia’s interference in our electoral process and other on-going conflicts between our countries, any cybersecurity engagement would necessarily be limited.”
We should all hope that the US officials who are implementing this new agreement are more sophisticated and careful than their President.” — David Kris, former U.S. assistant attorney general
In point of fact, the question of security runs up against the realities of Trump administration politics. Even a limited cybersecurity partnership would feed the Trump narrative about the falsity of claims concerning Russia’s election interference and distract from the Kremlin’s recently exposed disinformation campaign to influence our upcoming presidential race. Such cyber-cooperation might also lend legitimacy to the FSB’s known recruitment of criminal organizations to conduct cyber-operations, as well as to its vigorous efforts to suppress free speech on Russia’s internet. And Russia could be afforded the opportunity to gain information on our cyber-capabilities, along with access to our counterintelligence and law enforcement personnel for possible recruitment.
David Kris, assistant attorney general at the National Security Division of the Department of Justice in 2009-11 and the founder of Culper Partners consulting firm, articulated the concern with a sharp edge last week:
“It is hard not to hear in Mr. Bortnikov’s current statement an echo of Vladimir Putin’s prior offer, made onstage in Helsinki, to host members of Bob Mueller’s investigative team in Russia and to assist them through a ‘joint working group on cyber-security, the establishment of which we discussed during our previous contacts.’ As President Putin said then, ‘Any specific material’ indicating Russian election interference that Mueller’s team can produce, ‘we are ready to analyze together.’ At the time, President Trump described this as an ‘incredible offer’ from his Russian counterpart. We should all hope that the US officials who are implementing this new agreement are more sophisticated and careful than their President.”
American and Russian cyber-officials have for some time maintained a dialogue in order to reduce the risk of conflict in cyberspace. In 2013 the United States and Russia signed a landmark agreement that established a Cold War-style “cyber-hotline” between Washington and Moscow. But rising tensions over Russia’s 2014 aggression in Ukraine soured the deal, and the hotline was used by the Obama White House only once, to warn the Kremlin in October 2016 not to attack our 2016 election infrastructure. By then, the hacking, disinformation and trolling by the Russians already had done its job.
According to an FSB official: “The first message only came on October 31, 2016… After that there were a number of additions to that with technical information about the hack that had occurred. All of this information was analyzed by us, and even before President Trump’s inauguration, our answer was our comprehensive point of view, directed to the American side.” In other words, the FSB simply denied everything.
In the meantime, CIA Director John Brennan was so alarmed by the Kremlin’s election interference that he made a direct telephone call to Bortnikov in August 2016, warning him to back off.
Moscow and Washington have cooperated on fighting terrorism ever since the 9/11 attacks, when Vladimir Putin endeared himself to the Bush Administration by offering Russian help in hunting down al Qaeda. Given that terrorist organizations like al Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State use the internet to communicate with supporters and to recruit followers, the joint efforts have involved sharing information about terrorist activities on the internet. Significantly, Bortnikov noted, without providing details, that “just recently the American secret services provided Russia with information on specific people and plans to carry out terrorist attacks in our country.”
GUESS WHO’S COMING TO D.C.
Bortnikov, who famously dismissed Stalin’s Great Terror as a result of “excesses at the local level,” has been in the forefront of Kremlin efforts to cozy up to America’s security and law enforcement agencies. Curiously, as FSB chief since 2008, he is the only one of Russia’s security and intelligence chiefs to remain off the U.S. sanctions list, although he was sanctioned by the EU and Canada in 2014 for his role in shaping Kremlin policy regarding the Crimean invasion and support for separatists in Ukraine.
In February 2015 Bortnikov was invited to Washington by the White House to participate in a three-day conference on “countering violent extremism.” As The Daily Beast noted: “Bortnikov’s presence was a mutual recognition by the U.S. and Russia that fighting jihadism is a shared challenge between two countries now embroiled in a pitched standoff over the fate of Europe and much else.”
In January 2018, Bortnikov again showed up in the U.S. capital and met, along with SVR (foreign intelligence) chief Sergei Naryshkin, with then CIA chief Mike Pompeo to discuss mutual counter-terrorism efforts. GRU (military intelligence) chief Igor Korobov came with them, although it was not confirmed that he attended the talks with Pompeo. According to The Washington Post: “Current and former U.S. intelligence officials said they could not recall so many heads of Russia’s espionage and security apparatus coming to Washington at once and meeting with a top American official. They worried the Kremlin could conclude the United States is open to forgiving Russia for its actions and was not resolved to forcefully prevent future meddling.”
“Russia keeps aiming for a leaders’ level agreement [on cyber security cooperation], hoping it can bypass an intransigent ‘deep state’ in the United States.”
— Alex Grigsby, Council on Foreign Relations
But reliance on Bortnikov’s FSB as an anti-terrorism ally has not played out well for the White House, especially in Syria. The Russian air campaign there was never directed at ISIS, which includes many fighters from Chechnya. The Kremlin’s goal has been to ensure that Syrian President Bassar al-Assad stays in power, not to help the American coalition defeat the Islamic State.
As for the terrorist threat to the American homeland, the case of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who carried out the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings with his brother Dzhokhar, also demonstrated that Bortnikov’s FSB was a dubious ally. Tamerlan, who was on the FSB’s radar as far back as 2010, travelled to Russia in early 2012 and spent six months with radical Islamists in Dagestan before returning to the U.S. as a global jihadist. Although the FSB had earlier communicated with the FBI about Tamerlan, it never informed U.S. authorities about Tamerlan’s sojourn in Russia. According to an FBI official, had the agency been told, “it would have changed everything.” The FBI would have reassessed Tamerlan and possibly prevented the terrorist attack in Boston.
Alex Grigsby of the Council on Foreign Relations observed last year: “Russia keeps aiming for a leaders’ level agreement [on cybersecurity cooperation], hoping it can bypass an intransigent ‘deep state’ in the United States bent on stymying efforts at rapprochement, when quieter talks between working-level diplomats might yield greater success.”
In June of this year Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev called for a global effort to counter cyberthreats and chided those countries that are reluctant to cooperate with Russia on cybersecurity, noting that cybercrimes have no national boundaries. And just in September Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in an interview: “We have suggested setting up the cybersecurity dialogue to the United States a long time ago, considering that the pile up of false stories in this sphere is absolutely unprecedented. However, there is no clear response so far.”
One is left to wonder if Lavrov is referring to the “false stories” about Russia’s interference in our 2016 elections that Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani and U.S. Attorney General William Barr are looking into.
CREDULITY OR COMPLICITY?
Given his adoration of Putin, the president of the United States has long favored the idea of cooperating with Russia on cyber-issues. On July 9, 2017, two days after he met Putin for the first time in Hamburg at the G20, Trump declared on Twitter: “Putin & I discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded.” Later that day he apparently had second thoughts, tweeting: “The fact that President Putin and I discussed a Cyber Security unit doesn’t mean I think it can happen. It can’t-but a ceasefire [in Syria] can,& did!”
A Russian official who was at the Hamburg summit reported that the discussion of cybersecurity between Putin and Trump had taken up 40 minutes of their two-hour meeting. Trump, for his part, confiscated the interpreter’s notes.
The prospect of joint cyber-efforts raised by Trump’s tweets caused great dismay across the political spectrum in Washington. Chris Finan, a former director for cybersecurity legislation and policy in Barack Obama’s White House, declared the plan to be “strategic idiocy.”
“Trump’s Department of Homeland Security has made significant cuts in two key task forces of its Cyber Security and Infrastructure Agency.”
Undaunted, Trump and Putin kept the idea alive. Following the July 2018 summit between the two leaders in Helsinki, when Putin made his “incredible offer” to form a cyber-alliance, a National Security Council spokesman, speaking anonymously to The Washington Post, disclosed that the NSC and its Russian counterparts were “continuing a working-level dialogue” to review suggestions by Putin for a new “cyber-group” and “restarting a counterterrorism group.”
Meanwhile, last year Bortnikov’s FSB created a powerful new unit for protecting Russia’s infrastructure from cyberattacks and thwarting criminal hackers—the so-called National Coordination Center for Computer Incidents (NKTsKI), headed by Andrei Ivashko, formerly head of the FSB’s Center for Information Security.
By contrast, over the past year Trump’s Department of Homeland Security has made significant cuts in two key task forces of its Cyber Security and Infrastructure Agency that were created in response to Russian meddling in the 2016 elections for the purpose of protecting election infrastructure and thwarting foreign social media disinformation campaigns.
DRAWING THE LINE
According to the new FSB center’s deputy chief, Nikolai Murashov, it is actively exchanging data on computer incidents with its partners from 122 countries. “More and more critical information infrastructure facilities have been plugging into our response system and its branches and industry segments are rapidly growing.”
But the line between sharing computer malware secrets and leaking information on a country’s broader cyber-capacities can be a fine one when dealing with Russia, as shown by a huge scandal that hit the FSB in December 2016.
The deputy head of its now defunct Center for Information Security, Sergei Mikhailov, was arrested, along with two colleagues and an employee of the cybersecurity firm Kaspersky, Ruslan Stoyanov, for allegedly passing secret information to Western intelligence agencies. (Prosecutors later struck a plea deal with two of those charged, while Mikhailov and Stoyanov were sentenced to long years in prison for treason.)
“Russia has a powerful hacker underground which often cooperates with the Kremlin and is used as a political tool against the Western financial world.”
The FSB’s cybersecurity unit had worked with the FBI and other Western law enforcement agencies for years on an ad hoc basis, occasionally exchanging information about cyber-crime. But, according to at least one source, Mikhailov and his associates had also revealed to U.S. authorities information about the role of the GRU, a competitor agency, in hacking the DNC and other operations against our 2016 elections.
In theory, as Michael Daniel suggested, the United States and Russia could collaborate successfully in the fight against cybercrime, given that the activities of criminal gangs on the internet are a problem that affects countries everywhere.
The problem is that Russia has a powerful hacker underground which often cooperates with the Kremlin and is used as a political tool against the Western financial world. According to Russian security expert Alexander Sukharenko: “Russian cybercriminals operate with relative impunity inside Russia as long as they do not breach targets in their own country. In return for such immunity, cybercriminals are often tapped to work for Russia’s intelligence agencies. It is only when Russian hackers travel abroad that they can be detained.” Sukharenko notes that, as of this year, 19 Russian nationals are among the 69 cybercriminals most wanted by American authorities.
Another problem is that the U.S. and Russia understand the issue of cybersecurity very differently. For the United States, it is primarily the protection of technology, infrastructure, and people. Russia, in turn, sees cybersecurity as involving state regulation of the content of the internet, which is basically censorship.
ATTACKING INTERNET FREEDOM
The FSB’s Bortnikov is a case in point. In January 2018, A Russian news site, Russiangate.com, published an investigation into possible undeclared real estate secretly held by Bortnikov. Public property records showed that he owned a lavish home and plot of land outside St. Petersburg that he did not report in his official financial declaration. It did not take long for the federal media watchdog, Roskomnadzor, to blacklist the website for what was supposedly “extremist” content.
In the past five years Russian authorities have introduced laws requiring that social networking sites store users’ personal data on domestic servers and also that messaging apps hand over encryption keys to the FSB. (After the popular messaging service Telegram refused to comply, it was banned by a Russian court in April 2018. But Telegram has managed, so far, to work around the blockage.)
“It is unlikely that any form of official cooperation with the Russians would put a stop to the propaganda operations, given how effective they are.”
Last March, Putin signed two laws that strengthened censorship of the internet, one banning “fake news” and the other making it a crime to insult public officials. On Nov. 1, a so-called “sovereign internet” law went into effect, requiring Russian internet providers to install special tracking software that will enable them to route internet traffic through domestic servers. The law’s official purpose is to allow the government to isolate the Runet from the World Wide Web in the event of a foreign cyberattack, but it will also give authorities sweeping powers to manage information flows and filter online content.
For the U.S. a primary concern, of course, is the way Russia uses the internet for what were called “active measures” in KGB days–manipulating public opinion in Western democracies through disinformation. It is unlikely that any form of official cooperation with the Russians would put a stop to these propaganda operations, given how effective they are in furthering the Kremlin’s political aims and the fact that the Trump Administration apparently welcomes those that lend it support. Unfortunately, the White House does not seem to recognize that, for the Kremlin and the FSB, cyberspace is a domain of warfare against anyone, foreign or domestic, who opposes the Putin regime.
Israeli mercenaries are a threat to democracy and human rights around the world
October 31, 2019
Recent reports have revealed that a cyber-spying company in the United Arab Emirates has been hiring former Israeli intelligence officers. DarkMatter, which has intimate links with the UAE government, has been paying exorbitant sums in an effort to lure these spooks away from Israel. Their pay packets are said to amount to as much as a million dollars each.
When the spotlight is thrown on them, such “cybersecurity” firms often disclaim responsibility for the malign results of their work. They frequently claim to be involved only in legitimate security measures, and only helping recognised governments. The reality, though, is very different.
Such cyber-spying efforts, led by Israelis and often sold to the highest bidder, are in fact used to snoop on and sabotage the work of human rights activists, journalists and lawyers. The newly reported links between UAE and Israeli spies represented by DarkMatter are only the latest sign of growing links between Israel and the repressive Arab Gulf monarchies. When Israeli officials and propagandists talk of “Arab support” for their positions, this is the reality.
Although the UAE and Israel have no formal diplomatic relations, back door contacts date back as far as the 1990s. These shady links include military and intelligence cooperation.
In recent years, as the US-Israeli Cold War against Iran has ramped up, contacts between Israel and the Saudi-UAE axis have deepened. Israel and the Arab Gulf regimes perceive themselves as having a mutual enemy in Iran.
One of the spy tools that the UAE and Saudi Arabia has deployed against human rights advocates and journalists is Pegasus, created by the NSO Group, an Israeli spy company. Both NSO and DarkMatter have employed veterans of Unit 8200, Israel’s cyberwarfare division.
Pegasus, the NSO Group’s main cyber-weapon, is capable of invading smartphones remotely via WhatsApp. Initial versions of Pegasus had to trick the user into following a link sent via WhatsApp. However, the more advanced and latest versions of Pegasus are reportedly capable of infiltrating the targeted phone without such steps being necessary.
This invasive cyber-tool is capable of stealing a vast amount of data from smartphones. This includes passwords, locations, recordings, screenshots, email, text messages and photographs.
WhatsApp (which is owned by Facebook) announced this week that it is suing NSO Group for having targeted its users and its computer systems. The massive lawsuit was lodged in California. WhatsApp first announced earlier this year that it had discovered (and fixed) the vulnerability in its software which NSO had exploited for its espionage activities.
Since then, the company revealed this week, it has conducted a detailed assessment of the damage done before it was able to close the loophole in its security. As part of its lawsuit, WhatsApp has now said that more than 1,400 of its users in 20 different countries were affected.
One of those targeted by NSO’s spying efforts seems to have been Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist brutally murdered and dismembered on the orders of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, Mohammad Bin Salman last year. Amnesty International has also complained of being targeted by similar spying efforts.
DarkMatter is, no doubt, employed in targeting the legitimate work of journalists and human rights campaigners, and not the “terrorism” that such companies’ PR departments claim to be concerned about.
Recent reports shed light on DarkMatter, and its origins in Abu Dhabi. US intelligence officers working there on a project to help spy on domestic and foreign targets were effectively given the option to “join DarkMatter” or “go home”. Some of the American spies did go home, while others stayed, although some of the latter later quit after discovering that among the firm’s targets were Americans.
Now DarkMatter is employing Israeli spies to do the same work. There’s no reason to believe that it has ceased its spying on US citizens.
DarkMatter and the NSO Group are only two of a bewildering array of private spy firms which have hired the services of former Israeli intelligence officers. These mercenaries are an increasing threat to democracy and human rights around the world.
One of the most infamous of these Israeli mercenary spy agencies is Black Cube. This particularly reprehensible firm was employed by the disgraced Hollywood film mogul Harvey Weinstein to spy on, smear and discredit some of the women who he is accused of raping, and who were for the first time speaking out about the abuse that they suffered at his hands.
Israel is a threat to Palestinians and other Arabs first; of that there is no doubt. But there is equally no doubt that Israel is also a threat to the peace, security and human rights of the entire world.
See also: The Russian Mafiya and Al Qaeda
6 Reasons Israel Became A Cybersecurity Powerhouse Leading The $82 Billion Industry
July 18, 2017
by Gil Press
“Cyber is a great business. It’s growing geometrically because there is never a permanent solution, it’s a never-ending business,” said Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister, at Tel-Aviv University’s 7th Annual Cybersecurity Conference. Thomas Bossert, Assistant to the U.S. President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, announced at the event the creation of a US-Israeli bilateral cyber working group that will develop “innovative cyber defenses we can test here and then take back to America.”
Israel has become a cybersecurity powerhouse at the center of an $82 billion industry (not counting spending on internal security staff and processes). In addition to collaborating with super-powers, Israel is assisting smaller nations (e.g., Singapore), creating 300+ cybersecurity startups (for examples, see here and here), exporting last year $6.5 billion in cybersecurity products, convincing more than 30 multinationals to open local R&D centers, and attracting foreign investors. “In 2016, we had about 20% of the global private cyber security investment,” said Netanyahu.
At the conference, I participated in a series of briefings to a delegation of foreign journalists hosted by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. These included overviews of Israel’s cybersecurity ecosystem presented by Major General (Ret.) Professor Isaac Ben-Israel, Head of the Blavatnik Interdisciplinary Cyber Research Center (ICRC) at Tel-Aviv University and former head of R&D for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and the Ministry of Defense; Dr. Eviatar Matania, Director General of the Israel National Cyber Directorate (INCD); and a senior IDF official.
Here are 6 key factors that have contributed to making Israel a global center for cybersecurity research and practice:
The government as coordinator
When Prime Minister Netanyahu asked Professor Ben-Israel in 2010 for a 5-year plan on how to respond, on the national level, to increasing cyber threats, the latter answered that 5 years in cybersecurity is about 3 or 4 technological generations, making it impossible to predict and plan. Instead, Ben-Israel and his National Cyber Initiative task force recommended developing an “ecosystem that will know what to do when these unpredicted threats will come.”
The ecosystem is a constantly evolving framework for collaboration between the government (including the military), businesses, and universities, with the government playing mostly a guiding, advisory role. As cyberspace is global and has no national borders, says Dr. Matania, “we realized that organizations essentially constitute our nation’s digital frontier.” But companies—in Israel and everywhere else—are reluctant to be seen working hand in hand with their respective governments as they operate globally. In addition, individual freedoms are an issue in Israel as they are in all other liberal democracies.
Israel has gone through multiple attempts to create an operational structure that will resolve these tensions, the most recent one being the establishment of the National Cyber Security Authority in 2015. It embodies the government’s dual mission of enhancing cybersecurity coordination while removing the government further from the databases and decisions of individual businesses.
The government as a business catalyst
Just as the Israeli government has played an important role in launching and sustaining Israel’s thriving technology sector, it has served as a catalyst for the rapidly growing cybersecurity industry in Israel. In 2011, when the National Cyber Bureau was established as a result of Ben-Israel’s taskforce recommendations, its mandate included, in addition to cybersecurity coordination and policy development, the “vision of placing Israel among the top five countries leading in the field within a relatively short number of years.”
Viewing cybersecurity as an “economic growth engine,” the government identified it as a sector where Israel has a competitive advantage based on leading-edge research and unique practical experience. This advantage was also perceived and acted upon as an important contributor to international cooperation and increased goodwill towards Israel, providing an additional side-effect benefit to the country.
Making the military a startup incubator and accelerator
The adverse geo-political conditions in which Israel has found itself since it was established in 1948 have forced the small country to invest its meager resources in developing and maintaining superior military capabilities. As computers increasingly found their way into all walks of life and war, cyber defense has become an important activity for the IDF.
With years of intelligence gathering and cybersecurity practice, the IDF’s Unit 8200 has evolved into an incubator and accelerator of Israel’s startups, in cybersecurity and other fields. “We have succeeded in turning a disadvantage into an advantage,” says Nadav Zafrir, former commander of 8200 and today, the CEO of Team8. Zafrir: “In the past, military service was perceived as a waste of time, while it’s different now. We didn’t plan it that way. No one thought about how to make the IDF into a catalyst for the Israeli economy, but that’s what happened.”
The young people serving in 8200 and similar IDF units experience real-life and leading-edge cybersecurity challenges and solutions. But as these units work like startups, they also get to experience teamwork, leading other people, having responsibility for making significant decisions, and surviving failure, all a great preparation for entrepreneurial life. To keep them—at least for a while—from starting their own ventures, the IDF entices them to extend their service by funding their PhD studies or providing other incentives such as challenges they will not find in civilian life.
Investing in human capital
People—their skills, experience, and ambitions—are the most important ingredient in cyber defense. Israel is known for its dynamic culture, with its hallmarks of improvisation, innovation, and initiative. The energy and drive of its people are channeled into specific academic pursuits through government and private sector investments and programs. Cybersecurity education starts in middle school and Israel is the only country in the world in which cybersecurity is an elective in high school matriculation exams. A number of Israeli universities offer undergraduate specialization in cybersecurity and Israel was the first country in which you could get a PhD in cybersecurity (as an independent discipline, not as a computer science subject). Today, there are six university research centers dedicated to cybersecurity.
In addition to several government-sponsored programs aimed at finding promising youth and providing them with specialized training before and during their military service, the private sector, including non-profits, is also involved in cultivating science and technology education. For example, the Cyber Education Center recruits engineers and programmers to teach in schools, organizes tours of technology companies for school kids, and helps the volunteer teachers get jobs in technology companies.
Embracing interdisciplinarity and diversity
In his talk, Professor Ben-Israel explained that while cybersecurity requires technological solutions, the problems and issues of cybersecurity are not technological in nature. As a result, it is important to apply an interdisciplinary approach to cybersecurity and understand the legal, psychological, sociological, economic and other domains affecting it. Ben-Israel highlighted the fact that students at Tel-Aviv University, no matter what discipline they study (except for the arts), can specialize in cybersecurity (I guess that is why, in the interest of total inclusion, he got members of the Faculty of Arts to create a physical “Trojan Horse,” a type of malware in the virtual world—see below).
Interdisciplinarity means seeing things from different angles and breaking through artificial boundaries. In Israel, this is taken care of by the unique experience of cyber professionals. During compulsory military service (and later, when serving in the reserves), the initial academic introduction to cybersecurity is supplemented and enhanced by practical experience. These cyber professionals then join universities, think tanks, companies of every size, and government agencies. The shared experience of these professionals drives strong and enduring cross-pollination between these sectors—and multiple points of view—and ensures that all manner of cybersecurity solutions, policies, and activities are infused by both theory and practice, strategic and tactical thinking, broad expertise and specific experience.
On top of that, the diversity of experiences, approaches, and points of view is reinforced by the diverse backgrounds of the participants. In 2014, 25% of the Jewish-Israeli population was immigrants and 35% were children of immigrants, a human tapestry ensuring a tapestry of innovative cybersecurity solutions.
Rethinking the (cyber) box
The typical approach to cybersecurity has been, for the most part, reactive and focused on potential attackers. When governments get involved (including the Israeli government for many years), they assign responsibility for dealing with different types of attackers to different entities, making national policies fragmented and less-than-optimally coordinated.
After years of trial and error, Israel’s national cybersecurity policy today reflects a different approach to cybersecurity. It has evolved to become a proactive, comprehensive, and long-term cybersecurity strategy, focused not on potential attackers but on potential threats (and the assets requiring protection) and on organizations as the first line of defense.
This new type of cybersecurity strategy has 3 levels: Robustness, resilience, and defense. “If you build the first two layers in the right way,” says Matania, “they will mitigate 95% of the threats.” The first level, Robustness, is similar to immunization in the health sector. The government may offer advice and guidance, but it is the responsibility of individual organizations to get immunized. The government is a bit more active in the second level, Resilience, assisting in information sharing, analysis and mitigation of specific cyberattacks. The third layer is responding to a mega event—exclusively the responsibility of the government, including attribution and going after the attacker.
A showcase for Israel’s cybersecurity philosophy, its unique blend of the practical and theoretical, of interdisciplinarity and cross-pollination, of public and private interests, is the Advanced Technologies Park, adjacent to Ben-Gurion University in the southern Israeli city of Beer-Sheva.
With its mission of making the region a major source of talent and expertise, especially in the cybersecurity domain, the park has attracted major multinationals and their R&D centers (e.g., Deutsche Telekom, Dell EMC, IBM, and Oracle), venture capital firms, advanced research labs, the National Cyber Research Institute, and the national cyber emergency response teams. Moreover, the IDF is in the process of moving its strategic technology units to the very same campus.
Eventually, the IDF units will take over about a third of the park, Professor Rivka Carmi, President of Ben-Gurion University, told the press delegation. But there will be no fence between them and the civilian researchers, entrepreneurs and other cybersecurity experts working there. A the center of the Israeli cybersecurity philosophy are people—their interactions, exchange of ideas, debates, collaborations, competitions— they are the solutions to cyber threats and the foundation of turning risks into opportunities.
For readers with robust information overload resilience, the following sources provide more details on Israel and cybersecurity:
Lior Tabansky and Isaac Ben-Israel, Cyber Security in Israel, 2015
Dr. Eviatar Matania, Keynote at the 7th Billington CyberSecurity Summit, September 2016
Dmitry (Dima) Adamsky, “The Israeli Odyssey toward its National Cyber Security Strategy,” The Washington Quarterly, June 2017
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