Israel: Iran cyber-attacks target int’l community

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) “Shahid Kaveh” cyber unit has “conducted research to damage ships, gas stations and industrial plants in several Western countries including Britain, the United States, France and Israel, revealed Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

By Erin Viner

All of the attempts were foiled, Jerusalem’s top defense official said during an opening address of the Cyber Week conference at Tel Aviv University.

Denouncing Iran as the “leader of global, conventional terrorism,” Defense Minister Gantz stressed such efforts include cyber activities that “threaten to damage global infrastructure, spread fear, and even attempt to influence democratic processes and governments.”

One of the most well-known cases was Iran’s efforts to disrupt the 2020 US presidential election, said Gantz, in addition to many other cases of which Israel is aware. He highlighted that most recently, reports show that IRGC-led Iranian terror groups have tried to target charities and government networks in the US.

In what he termed was the first public disclosure of the incident, Jerusalem’s top defense official went on to reveal that “Iranian security institutions in cooperation with Hezbollah (recently) launched a cyber operation with the intention of “stealing materials” for use against the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

The UNIFIL peacekeeping mission was established in 1978. It routinely patrols Lebanon’s southern border with Israel, tasked with monitoring the ceasefire that ended the last war between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006.

“This is yet another direct attack by Iran and Hezbollah on Lebanese citizens and on Lebanon’s stability,” he asserted.

Reiterating that, “Iran is first a global challenge, then a regional challenge and only finally it is a threat to the State of Israel,” Gantz stressed, “The same goes for the cyber dimension. We work closely with our partners; In the same cooperation frameworks that we are building in the region vis-à-vis Iran is also expanding to the cyber dimension. Together we can prevent significant harm to the citizens of the region and the world.”

Minister Gantz went on to stress that Israel – which is widely believed to have engaged in a “Shadow War” with Iran involving clandestine cyber attacks aimed at preventing the Islamic Republic’s acquisition of nuclear weapons – may retaliate physically against enemy hackers.

“We know who they are, we target them and those who direct them. They are in our sights as we speak – and not just in the cyber-space,” he said. “There is a variety of possible responses to cyber-attacks – in and outside of the cyber-domain.”

Last month, the Israeli government has ordered communications firms to step up cyber security efforts in the wake of a rise in attempted hacking attacks.

“We are trying to put the right standard on communications companies in order to protect Israel and create a kind of ‘Iron Dome’ from cyber security attacks. We are suffering from thousands of cyber attacks every year,” Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel said at a special press conference.

Israel uses the Iron Dome air defense system to intercept and shoot down missiles fired by Palestinian terrorists based in Gaza.

The new regulations now being implemented require mandatory compliance with unified standards, said the Communications Ministry and Israel’s National Cyber Directorate. Firms must formulate plans to protect their communications networks with monitoring and control mechanisms to ensure provision of contemporaneous protection of cyber systems and privacy levels. These measures will also involve a higher level of supervision.

Noting that risks continued to mount due to greater digitization and that “communications networks are an attractive target for cyber attacks by hostile elements,” said Minister Hendel, pointing to potential damage or shutdown of services, as well as the possible leakage of stored information.

There was a 137% annual jump in average weekly attacks on Israeli companies to nearly 1,500 per week in the first three months of 2022, according to data gathered by the Check Point cyber security firm.

Director General of the Israel National Cyber Directorate Gaby Portnoy acknowledged of which he attributed to arch-foe Iran. These included an attempt to shut down government sites that initially began through telecom providers but ultimately failed.