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Cyber Cold War Justifies Israeli Digital Shield, Imperva Says

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan for an Iron Dome-style digital defense to guard online systems “makes sense” amid a threat of attack from Iran, according to Web security company Imperva Inc. (IMPV)

“There is an ongoing sort of Cold War where there have been attacks against Iranian targets, probably by Israel and the U.S. in a joint effort or not,” Amichai Shulman, chief technology officer of Imperva, said yesterday in an interview in Tel Aviv. “Iran at some point said: ‘Hey, don’t forget we can play that game as well.’”

The National Cyber Bureau is developing a system to protect Israel from computer terrorism as attempts to attack the country’s systems have risen, Netanyahu said on Oct. 14. He spoke days after U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta noted increased attacks on American systems.

“Apparently under way is a large cyberspace campaign by Iran, both to attack various targets in retaliation for the sanctions imposed against it and to repel the cyber attacks directed at it,” the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies said in a report released yesterday.

Imperva, based in Tel Aviv and Redwood Shores, California, sells tools and services to safeguard data and online systems. Its competitors include Oracle Corp. (ORCL), F5 Networks Inc. (FFIV) and International Business Machines Corp. (IBM)

Israel’s cyber borders may be easier to defend than those of the U.S., because it has only a handful of outgoing communication links, and the country is geographically small and culturally homogeneous, making it easier to mobilize civilians in an emergency, Shulman said.

Terrorist Threat

“Just as we have Iron Dome against missiles, and a security fence against infiltrators and terrorism, we will have a similar defense against cyber attacks,” Netanyahu said, referring to anti-missile defense system Iron Dome and a West Bank barrier Israel says is meant stop suicide bombers.

Netanyahu didn’t say which computer systems were attacked and Shulman said his hacker monitoring team didn’t record any spike in assaults in recent days. In the U.S., Panetta said on Oct. 12 that there had been increased assaults on U.S. systems operating chemical, electricity and water plants. He warned of a possible terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001 magnitude.

Iran has accused Israel and the U.S. of trying to sabotage its nuclear program through a malware virus known as Stuxnet. The U.S. is leading economic sanctions aimed at preventing the development of an Iranian nuclear weapon.

Crime Increase

Shulman said cybercrime poses an even greater threat than online terrorism. Gartner Inc. (IT) last month predicted that worldwide spending on cyber security will rise to $60 billion this year from $55 billion in 2011. The industry researcher said demand will be driven by persistent threats and increasingly sophisticated attacks.

“From five years ago to today the growth in attacks is in orders of magnitude,” said Shulman, whose career identifying computer attacks began during his military service in Israel. “With law enforcement not growing at the same rate, we are having a sense of the Wild West.”

“If I compare personal security on the street in Israel with personal security on the Web, there is a huge difference,” said Shulman. “When I go out of the house I don’t wear a bullet-proof vest and I don’t expect to get shot in the streets. When I put up a new website I can guarantee I will be under constant attack.”

Imperva’s shares have more than doubled since they started trading in the U.S. in November 2011. Revenue has grown almost eightfold in the past six years.

To contact the reporters on this story: Gwen Ackerman in Jerusalem at gackerman@bloomberg.net; Alisa Odenheimer in Jerusalem at aodenheimer@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net

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