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Israel taps teens to become 'interceptors' in cyberwarfare

New training program to create youth hacking force

Israel has launched a new nationwide program aimed at training teenagers to carry out cyberwarfare operations.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the program at the Ashkelon Academic College, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu described the students who will receive the training as "future interceptors for the State of Israel," The Jerusalem Post reports.

"Israel's vital systems are under attack from Iran and other elements. This will only increase as we enter the digital age," Netanyahu said, adding that the cyberwarfare program is an effort to build a "digital Iron Dome" around the country.

The latter comment was a reference to the so-called Iron Dome, Israel's anti-missile defense system, which is widely believed to be the most effective such system in the world.

The new cyberwarfare education program will enroll outstanding students aged 16-18, and will take three years to complete.

The initiative comes as Israeli websites and databases have increasingly fallen victim to politically motivated attacks by Anonymous and other groups in recent months.

It was not immediately clear, however, whether the training dispensed under the new program will be purely defensive in nature. Israel is believed to already possess a mature cyberwarfare capability, and Israeli intelligence has been implicated in a number of high-profile attacks.

Most notably, Iran has accused Israel, the UK, and the US of conducting a sustained campaign of cyber-attacks designed to hobble Iran's controversial nuclear program, which it says included development of the infamous Stuxnet and Flame malware.

The use of such attacks is itself highly controversial, with critics questioning the ethics of destroying civilian infrastructure in the absence of an actual war.

Most security experts agree, however, that as long as the technology to conduct cyberwarfare exists, attacks are inevitable, and that developing a defensive capability that is effective against both civilian and state-sponsored attacks is therefore essential.

In November, The Washington Post reported that US President Barack Obama had signed a new, secret directive outlining when and how US forces can conduct defensive and offensive cyberwarfare, and other governments worldwide are believed to be drafting similar plans. ®

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