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Israel mulls creation of elite counter-cyberterrorist unit

Unit would protect private sector firms and gov agencies

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Israel is mulling the creation of a counter-cyberterrorism unit designed to safeguard both government agencies and core private sector firms against hacking attacks.

The proposed unit would supplement the efforts of Mossad and other agencies in fighting cyberespionage and denial of service attacks. Israel is, of course, a prime target for hackers from the Muslim world.

The country's hi-tech industries also make it an interesting target for cyberespionage from government-sponsored hackers from China and elsewhere. Spear-phishing attacks featuring targeted emails, custom malware and subsequent hacking action have been in the news over recent weeks, in the wake of cyberattacks against EU agencies and oil-prospecting multinationals, to quote just two recent threats.

Major General Isaac Ben-Israel, former head of the Defence Ministry's administration for the development of weapons and technological infrastructure, the main candidate to lead Israel's cyber-defenders, reportedly met with local and international experts for a brainstorming strategy development session late last year.

A report based on the outcome of the talks involving the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) at the Herzliya-based Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) is due to presented to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu sometime in the next few weeks.

Israel is rumoured to have collaborated with the US on the development of Stuxnet, the SCADA-system infecting worm described in some circles as the world's first cyberweapon. Circumstantial evidence for this theory came, in part, from a video from the retirement party of General Gabi Ashkenazi that recently surfaced on the net. The video cited the successful Stuxnet worm attack on Iran's uranium enrichment facility at Natanz as among the successes he had racked up during his tenure as chief of staff of the Israel Defence Forces, Israeli daily Haaretz reports (Google translation from original Hebrew here).

Stuxnet, whoever might have created it, along with recent cyberespionage attacks, have concentrated government minds across the world on the problem of defending against cyberattacks. Some of the scenarios peddled by doom-mongers – cyberattacks using Stuxnet variants to take down power grids or collapse communications infrastructure – are more the stuff of Hollywood than reality. However there is a real threat in there, mainly at this stage from either cyberespionage or denial of service attacks.

In response to these threats, Germany opened a new Cyber Defense Center last week, with a reported roster of 10 staff. The team is tasked with spotting and evaluating internet-based attacks, as well as developing counter-strategies, DeutscheWelle reports.

The UK government last year earmarked £650m over the next four years to tackle cyberthreats, as part of its Strategic Defence and Security Review. Part of this money – £63m – has been allocated to boost the policing of financially motivated cybercrime.

A larger proportion is expected to be allocated towards fighting state-sponsored attacks, with most of this money going towards GCHQ. This is expected to involve an expansion of the role of the Cheltenham-based Cyber Security Operations Centre, a small group established in 2009 and initially focused on gathering intelligence on online threats for use by government agencies. ®

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