If Israel Can't Protect Its Private Sector From Hackers, Who Can?

Photographer: Ariel Harmoni/Israeli Ministry of Defense via Getty Images

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon visits the Telecom and Cyber System on June 4, 2013 in Israel. Close

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon visits the Telecom and Cyber System on June 4, 2013 in Israel.

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Photographer: Ariel Harmoni/Israeli Ministry of Defense via Getty Images

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon visits the Telecom and Cyber System on June 4, 2013 in Israel.

Israeli computers are already among the most targeted -- and best protected -- in the world, with thousands of cyber-attacks on government sites fended off daily.

That's all well and good, but what about the private sector, where drug and food manufacturers and Internet service providers offer hackers relatively easy targets?

"In an orchestrated cyber-attack on Israel -- not by a few kids and Anonymous, but a nation-backed attack -- we could find ourselves in a bad way if we don't do something about our exposed civilian 'cyber' vulnerabilities," said Gabi Siboni, military and strategic affairs program director at Tel Aviv's Institute for National Security Studies.

The institute is hosting a cybersecurity conference this week, where Siboni spoke today. Yaakov Perry, the Israeli minister of science, technology and space, and Eviatar Matania, the head of the National Cyber Bureau, are also scheduled to speak at the conference. It's Israel's second major cybersecurity convention in the last month.

"Why should an assailant attack what we call critical infrastructure like Israel Electric Corp, when he knows he will need to exert himself to penetrate it because it is a national infrastructure that is regulated and protected?" Siboni said. "He's better off going after the unprotected that may do less damage but nonetheless harm Israel."

Just knowing it's at risk puts Israel ahead of the rest of the world as Siboni said he wasn't sure any country had an organized approach on how best to protect the civilian sector from hackers. In the U.S., the National Institute of Standards and Technology this month sought feedback on a voluntary framework to secure critical infrastructure from cyber-attacks by Iran and its proxies: Lebanon's Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas.

Israel's awareness is piqued by a rise, reported last month by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in such attacks by Iran, Lebanon's Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas. In April, hackers briefly shut down several government websites in a coordinated assault protesting Israel's treatment of the Palestinians. Last year during fighting in the Gaza Strip, millions of attacks on websites were deflected.

Israel established the National Cyber Bureau two years ago to protect vital computer systems from attack. The Israel Security Agency, also known as the Shin Bet, also has a unit focused on the issue. The two should merge so one operation is responsible for defending the civilian sector, Siboni has proposed to policy makers. The organization would establish information-security standards for businesses that will be similar to those that ensure adequate safety measures for fires.

An official at the Cyber Bureau declined to comment on Siboni's remarks.

"Let's say they attack all news providers," said Siboni. "What happens if no one knows what is going on?"

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