They call it "the cyber winter."
It is the next stage of cyber warfare. According to Yigal Unna, Israel's national cyber security chief, we are not talking theoretically. We are already there. The war has begun. We have entered the new stage.
Unna told CyberLive Asia that "cyber winter is coming."
He said: "Rapid is not something that describes enough how fast and how crazy and hectic things are moving forward in cyberspace and I think we will remember this last month and May 2020 as a changing point in the history of modern cyber warfare."
Unna knows what he's talking about. Israel's water system was attacked by cyber terrorists in late April. The attack was traced back to Iran. The plan was for attackers to change the chlorine content of Israel's water.
According to an internal memo between the head of Israel's water department and the head of Israel's cyber security, the attack was repelled and Israel successfully defended itself. No damage was done. The memo ordered everyone to change their passwords — especially those in the chlorine control department.
If that was not possible, they were instructed to remove themselves and take their system offline immediately.
Had the attack not been thwarted, the damage to the water system would have been disastrous for Israel and for the region. And it would have added exponentially to the coronavirus crisis.
This attack was sophisticated. It penetrated deep into the system. Tracking the hackers was not easy but, in the end, it could have only been one of three groups sophisticated enough to carry out an attack of this magnitude and hateful enough of Israel to want to carry out an attack of this magnitude.
Iran, Russia and China are the three biggest "black hat" hacking governments in the world. Penetrating Israel's security requires a great deal of computer and hacking power. This was not a high schooler having a good time or winning a bet.
After ascertaining that it was Iran, Israel responded.
On May 9th the Iranian port Shahid Rajaee Terminal ground to a halt. The entire region was launched into a state of chaos. The terminal is located near Bandar Abbas, a coastal city on the shore of the Strait of Hormuz.
The hack was reported in The Washington Post. There were photos showing miles and miles of trucks that were stuck and of ships that were kept waiting in the port. The newspaper quoted sources saying that Israel was responsible for the hack. They sources said that Israel hacked Iran as a response to Iran's failed hack on the National Israeli Water System.
One of the sources, a foreign security expert, is quoted saying the hack was "presumably in retaliation for an earlier attempt to penetrate computers that operate rural water distribution systems in Israel ... There was total disarray …" And, the attack was "highly accurate."
Years ago, with some assistance from the United States, Israel (probably) created a Stuxnet virus as well as several successive viruses that followed. That was a sophisticated cyberattack against Iran. The Stuxnet viruses successfully infiltrated Iran and significantly set back their nuclear program.
In those attacks, no one was hurt. Computers attacked computers. The battlefield was cyberspace. The warriors were bots. The command post was a remote location. This attack against Israel's water system was different. This attack could have caused the deaths of countless people, countless Israelis.
It took cyber war to a new level. And Israel is trying to put the genie back in the bottle and force Iran back into a set of rules that leaves innocent people out of the line of fire — even cyber fire.
The former head of Israeli Military Intelligence, Amos Yadlin, warned Iran. Via Israeli radio, Yadlin warned Iran not to attack civilian targets. He pointed out that Iran was much more vulnerable than Israel.
Israel is hoping that Iran gets the message and hopes Iran will bring an end to this latest round of cyber warfare. They are hoping that the situation does not escalate. These are alarming events. The levels to which cyber warfare has been taken are stuff that thriller movies and science fiction novels are made of.
But this is real life.
Micah Halpern is a political and foreign affairs commentator. He founded "The Micah Report" and hosts "Thinking Out Loud with Micah Halpern" a weekly TV program and "My Chopp" a daily radio spot. A dynamic speaker, he specializes in analyzing world events and evaluating their relevance and impact. Follow him on Twitter @MicahHalpern. Read Micah Halpern's Reports — More Here.
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