How Israel is leading the global cyberwarfare race

From innovative intelligence corps such as Unit 8200 to unique cyberculture, Israel has become a powerhouse in cyberwarfare and security information



Arie Egozi
05/01/2019

How did Isreal become a cybersecurity superpower? 

An often overlooked element of the Syrian War is the cyber war. Russia has been deeply engaged in this area, utilising cyber tools as operational assets, similarly, Israel, while not actively involved in the conflict, has been targeting Iranian assets in Syria to restrict Iranian penetration into the region.

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Israel Air Force F-15I. The IAF launched 200 air strikes against Iranian targets in Syria in 2018. Source: Shutterstock

Israeli companies have identified cyber warfare as an area of huge potential, both for offensive and defensive cyber solutions.

Likewise, Russian President Vladimir Putin recently said that the experience gained by the Russian defence forces while supporting Assad in Syria helped develop new weapon systems. Some likely being cyber-based.

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The Russian military has used the conflict to test its new jets, cruise missiles and other weapons in combat for the first time. But, according to Israeli sources, Russia has also tested new Cyber and GPS jamming techniques and equipment.

One of the clear advantages gained by Russia in Syria is the ability to test their Cyber tools against the best western made technologies – these include the Israeli Air Force F-35, the Arrow ballistic missiles defence systems and a line of UAS assets.

Threats to Israeli cybersecurity

Besides many private companies developing attack and defence Cyber tools in Israel, the IDF's 8200 unit is spearheading cyber efforts.

This unit collects signal intelligence (SIGINT) and code decryption. Military publications refer to this unit as the Central Collection Unit of the Intelligence Corps, and the Israeli SIGINT National Unit (ISNU).

This unique unit, along with others, defends Israeli weapon systems from Cyber-attacks and allowing the most advanced weapon systems operate in GPS denied areas.

While Russia used Syria as a test range for Cyberwarfare including GPS denial techniques, the real Cyber threat for Israel is Iran.

Iran has a well-established infrastructure of cyber capabilities, both defensive and offensive. According to the Israeli Institute for national security studies (INSS), Iran’s main targets of attack in recent years include Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the United States.

This is even more pressing as Teheran continues to develop its nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missile capabilities, increasing the likelihood of confrontation.

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The INSS say that Iranian cyber activity is supervised at the highest levels of the regime, including the president and the commander of the Revolutionary Guards, and is maintained in several ways.

First, the Iranian regime invests heavily in research and training, based on a strategic perception of the importance of cyber.

Second, signing the nuclear treaty with the superpowers in 2015 opened up an opportunity for Iran to establish many opportunities for cooperation with universities and scientific institutes around the world.

According to INSS, Iran exploited this opportunity to promote its cyber capabilities through working with institutions that possess the relevant knowledge.

Third, Iran’s exploitation of foreign cyber knowledge is not limited to official cooperation.

In 2013, Iran established the Mabna Institute, to gain access to scientific resources from outside Iran. While the focus this initiative extends the field of cyber, this is another avenue in which Iran can build its cyber capabilities.

Iran has experienced the dangers embodied by cyberattacks, such as the Stuxnet malicious worm that damaged Iranian nuclear infrastructures in 2012.

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Iran has focused its effort on protecting its nuclear infrastructure against further Cyber-attacks and has developed aggressive Cyber capabilities. The capture of an advanced U.S Army UAS in 2011 is evidence of this when a Lockheed Martin RQ-170 UAS was brought down by Iranian forces near the city of Kashmar in Northeastern Iran. The Iranian government announced that the UAS was brought down by its cyberwarfare unit which took control over the advanced UAS and safely landed it.

Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel. Allegedly captured by Iran in 2011. Source: Wikicommons 

New cyberwarfare technologies 

In recent years, the US has increased cooperation with Israeli organizations and companies.

For example, last year Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), and Honeywell Aerospace signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to jointly develop an advanced GPS Anti-Jam navigation System.

As part of the MOU, IAI and Honeywell are aiming to engineer, manufacture and market a combined GPS Anti-Jam combined solution. The new technology will combine existing ADA GPS Anti-Jamming systems together with Honeywell's embedded GPS Inertial Navigation System.

The ADA system will be integrated as a subsystem, or as an embedded module into Honeywell's navigation systems.

According to the two companies, the joint solution applies to military navigation applications (SAASM / P(Y) Code) and has the provisioning to support future directives of the GPS Directorate (M-Code).

Contemporary navigation, communications, intelligence and EWS systems that are integrated into modern platforms, rely on precise satellite-based navigation and timing for successful operations.

Despite this dependency, many platforms still do not use Anti-Jamming Systems to protect those essential assets.

In fact, low-power jammers can deny the operation of Global Navigation Satellite Systems and can degrade and given the platform’s capability to complete its task.

In parallel with this defensive effort, Israel is also developing weapon systems that can operate in GPS denied areas.

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The need for this capability has become clear as the Israeli Airforce (IAF) during 2018 performed over 200 air strikes against Iranian targets in Syria. They performed these attacks while the area was "covered" with GPS denying systems.

To perform those attacks, in such a sensitive area, the IAF utilises advanced weapon systems that can mitigate the use of GPS jammers.

For example, the "Spice" family of air-dropped bombs developed by Rafael. The Spice 1000 and Spice 2000 guidance kits convert 1000 lb and 2000 lb general purpose and penetration warheads into precision stand-off strike weapons. The "Spice" bombs are just one example to a new generation of weapon systems, designed to perform in GPS denied areas.

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