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June 6, 2012 5:57 pm
Israel needs to play a more active role in cyber warfare and is developing both offensive and defensive capabilities, Ehud Barak, the defence minister, said on Wednesday.
Mr Barak’s statement, made at a cyber security conference in Tel Aviv, was a rare public admission by a top Israeli official that the country is working on technology that can be used to attack other countries and not just defend itself against cyber threats.
His comments commanded attention both at home and abroad as they came just days after reports that the US and Israel have been collaborating on a cyber campaign against Iran’s nuclear programme, including claims in a forthcoming book that President Barack Obama personally ordered the Stuxnet computer virus attack in 2010.
Mr Barak said: “We need to switch to a proactive system in which we don’t just react to attacks.” He added that “both [defensive and offensive] aspects are existent” in Israeli efforts, although the former was “the more difficult and [more] important one”.
According to Mr Barak, Israel is working to become a “world leader in cyber capabilities, in the defence establishment and in the civil sector”.
Analysts say cyberwar efforts by Israel and western countries are significantly accelerating in response to terror groups increasingly using the internet to plan strikes and recruit new members.
Israel officially set up a national cyber committee last month, with the primary goal of developing defence of critical infrastructure, financial systems and other assets. Last week, Israeli media reported the military was engaging in offensive activities in the cyber arena.
Eugene Kaspersky, whose Moscow-based firm discovered the Flame virus that has attacked computers in Middle East countries, including Iran, said on the sidelines of the Tel Aviv conference that only an international effort could prevent a potentially disastrous cyberattack.
“It’s not cyberwar, it’s cyberterrorism and I am afraid it’s just the beginning of the game . . . I am afraid that it will be the end of the world as we know it,” Mr Kaspersky, whose company is one of the world’s biggest makers of antivirus software, was quoted by Reuters as saying: “I am scared, believe me.”
Analysts have speculated that Israel, which has repeatedly denounced Iran’s nuclear ambitions, may have been involved in Flame, considered one of the most advanced viruses to have been discovered to date.
Last week, Moshe Yaalon, Israel’s vice premier, helped to fan such speculation when he was asked about Flame by Israeli radio. “Whoever sees the Iranian threat as a significant threat is likely to take various steps, including these, to hobble it,” he said.
As part of its efforts in this field, Israel is likely to be working with the US and other allies, experts say. Gabriel Weiman, an expert on cyberterrorism from Haifa university, said: “It’s not just the Israelis and Americans. It’s clear that other countries are exchanging data and co-operating.”
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