Israel vs Iran.The strategic importance of 5° domain,the cyberspace

Pierluigi Paganini October 30, 2012

Time passes and the dispute between Iran and Israel is becoming increasingly more complex to manage. Apparently everything seems crystallized waiting for one of the contenders make the first move, in fact, both states are boosting investment in the development of their cyber capabilities.

The cyberspace is the domain in which both countries are trying to offend the adversaries, recently the Israel’s Channel 2 reports that the Israel Defense Forces is planning to double the number of actual members of the well-recognized Unit 8200, the Israeli Intelligence Corps unit responsible for collecting signal intelligence and code decryption. The unit is responsible to conduct both defensive and offensive operations in the cyberspace, a domain considered fundamental by Israel government.

The Israel cyber unit is considered one of the most active in the creation of offensive tools, majority of security experts blamed it for the creation of Stuxnet virus in a joint venture with US. Stuxnet is not the only malware designed to attack a foreign state through the cyberspace, let’s remind in fact the recently analysis on Flame malware are demonstrated an intense activity of cyber espionage in Middle East area, and also in this case appears high probable the support of Israel cyber units.

A conflict in the cyberspace is very difficult to engage, in many cases a country suffers continuous cyber attacks that appear conducted by state-sponsored hackers but there is no certainty about their origin, we must also consider that it is possible to intentionally make a series of offensives against a state so that the blame falls on nations not really involved, the strategy of misinformation is considerable one of the primary option in a case of conflict.

When we speak of cyber war we must be really careful, collect evidences of attacks is hard. During the last Cyber Threat Summit in Dublin I presented my research “The rise of cyber weapons and relative impact on cyber space” highlighting the expense of main countries that we consider most advanced in cyber warfare scenario.

US, China, UK, Iran, and at least other 140 States all over the world are currently working to the creation of a new generation of cyber weapons, despite the substantial cuts in military spending due the global crisis these investments in cyber warfare are increasing in impressive way.

The Channel 2 presented an advanced technological Israel that has recruited expert hackers to aggregate the unit Unit 8200 with the slogan:

“if you’re a computer genius, this is the place for you!”.

Richard Silverstein, a famous author, journalist and blogger, with articles appearing in Haaretz, the Jewish Forward, Los Angeles Times and many other important press agencies argues in an article published on Tikun Olam with the propaganda of the Israeli government.

The journalist remarks that a cyber attack could cause the loss of human lives and serious damage, he is scared by the fact that simply using a keyboard it is possible to destroy a critical infrastructure, interrupt telecommunications or highjack defense missiles against their owners.

The famous author writes:

“As I’ve written, it’s only a matter of time before someone pushes a Send button and unleashes code that derails a train, causes an explosion in a power plant, or poisons a water supply.  Even Leon Panetta warned of this eventuality.  Only of course, he warned of someone doing it to us, rather than us doing it to someone else.  We all know that the things you accuse your opponent of wishing to do to you are the same things you’d do to him given half a chance.”

The recruiting of aspiring cyber experts is very effective, a network of head hunters in the country look for high school students that are following an educational path characterized by the predominance of IT material. This is not the only way to recruit cyber specialists, great relevance is taken by social media, IDF is searching for them also analyzing forums and social networks.

The initiative of IDF to increase the capabilities of its cyber units recruiting youngsters is not new, just last week I’ve written of similar initiative of Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) intelligence agency and even before of Chinese cyber army.

But if Israel is recruiting new cyber units we cannot ignore the progresses of Tehran, the Iranian governments is intensifying its cyber activities, in particular fearing a powerful cyber attack it is trying to secure the infrastructures of the countries.

I believe that Iran is making meaningful progresses in cyber warfare and soon it will be very dangerous also thanks to the support of cyber mercenaries.

Iranian government is aware that the enemy is increasing cyber capabilities that will use against vital components of the countries, that’s why Iran should adopt a smart civil and cyber defense strategy against this attackers according the declarations of Head of Iran’s Civil Defense Organization Brigadier General Gholam Reza Jalali.

“so, threats determine the direction of our movement”. “I think that utilizing hi-tech is like playing in enemy’s court because it has been developed based on the capabilities of the enemy,”

He then said the US and Israel own a major share of infrastructural companies and hi-tech firms to the very same end. “Thus, Iran is necessitated to design a new model for cyber defense,”

Iran is daily hit by a large number of cyber attacks, they are making a great experience in this sense and the experts of the government are learning on how to monitor foreign offensives and how to defend country’s industrial systems.

Don’t forget that country’s experts were the first, such as Kaspersky Lab Team, to be able to neutralize “Flame” virus discovered last may using an indigenous anti-virus software.

Let’s remind also that last April 24 country’s experts had limited the effects of a series of cyber attacks against the country’s Oil Ministry, Hamdollah Mohammadnejad, deputy minister in engineering affairs, according the Fars News Agency declared :

“Recently, a few number of National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) servers were attacked by a malware, but the cyber security experts of oil industry contained it immediately.”

We all must be aware of the progress of Iran in cyber warfare scenario, at least on the defense perspective … but what will happen if similar progress have been obtained also on the offensive perspective?

Are we ready to neutralize a cyber weapons, such as Stuxnet, created by its experts?

It’s quite strange, but this time we are observing more propaganda made by Western governments that objective results obtained from the improvement of cyber capabilities …

countries such as Iran and North Korea must be monitored with great attention in cyber warfare scenario.

Pierluigi Paganini

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