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Israel builds up its cyberwar corps

Nov. 2, 2012 at 2:37 PM   |   Comments

TEL AVIV, Israel, Nov. 2 (UPI) -- Amid signs the cyberwar with Iran is heating up, the Israeli army reportedly has launched a major recruitment drive for computer wonks to expand Unit 8200, a highly secret outfit that's supposedly behind recent cyberattacks on the Islamic Republic.

It's widely held that Israel has been driving hard to develop a whole arsenal of cyberweapons in preparation for possible war with Iran.

In particular, the Israelis have threatened pre-emptive strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities that would include a multitude of cyberattacks on Tehran's command-and-control network, communications and infrastructure that would degrade its military capabilities.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu established a special division of Unit 8200 in 2010 to develop the Jewish state's cyberwar capabilities.

That makes it Israel's cutting edge in the rapidly evolving arena of cyberconflict, a silent and virtually invisible form of warfare that theoretically is capable of knocking out the entire industrial, commercial, financial and social infrastructure of an enemy, as well as seriously degrading his fighting capabilities, without firing a shot.

This is the form of warfare that's emerging between Iran, on one hand, and Israel and the United States on the other.

Yedioth Ahronoth, a leading Israeli daily, Thursday quoted a senior officer in the army's manpower division as saying the military faces a dire shortage of cyberwarriors and is scouring the country, as well as the Jewish diaspora, for recruits.

"It's become clear that the demand for soldiers in this field is growing, which is why we're searching for solutions not only in Israel but abroad as well," the officer observed.

Netanyahu has championed Israel's effort to expand its arsenal and defenses against cyberattack.

"There are increasing attempts to carry out cyberattacks on computer infrastructures in the state of Israel," he told a weekly Cabinet meeting Oct. 14.

"Every day there are attempts, even many attempts, to infiltrate Israel's computer systems."

He didn't say where the attacks originated but it was clear he was referring to Iran, the target of Israeli and U.S. cyberattacks since 2009 and now rapidly developing its own cyberwarfare capabilities and clearly making progress.

Later this month, cyberthreats will be the main focus of the Second International Conference of Homeland Security in Tel Aviv. The conference, organized by the Israel Export and International Cooperation Institute, will be attended by some 2,000 security officials, defense company executives and military analysts from around the globe.

Israel's high-tech defense companies are expected to display a range of new systems to counter the emerging cyberwar threat.

Cyberwarfare is being given priority under the military's current five-year development plan, despite hefty cutbacks in defense spending.

Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, the new head of Military Intelligence, is reported to have allocated $320 million for the army's cyberwarfare program.

"Cyber readiness is one of the new pillars in our plan, including both defense and offense," the military's leading cyberexpert, Maj. Gen. Isaac Ben Israel, explained.

He downplayed the report the military was seeking would-be cyberwarriors among Jewish communities abroad, stressing that the military has first pick of 18-year-old Israelis when they commence their mandatory three-year military service.

But he stressed: "Cybertechnology is a new weapon in the old business of warfare. If we want to defend ourselves, we have to dominate this field."

Israel is striving to do this, alongside the United States.

Senior officers in both militaries have dropped strong hints, supported by the conclusions of leading information technology researchers, that Israel and the United States jointly developed the Stuxnet virus that was used to sabotage Iran's uranium enrichment program, the core of its alleged military nuclear project, in 2009 and again in 2010.

Those ground-breaking cyberattacks were followed by more sophisticated viruses identified as Duqu, Gauss, W32.Flame and its powerful spinoff, Mini-Flame.

These have been directed not only at Iran's nuclear program but also the state-owned National Iranian Oil Co. and other important infrastructure in recent months.

The Iranians, who've been throwing considerable resources into developing their own cyber capabilities, have started striking back. U.S. officials say Tehran was behind attacks in August against Saudi Arabia's oil giant Aramco and Rafgas in neighboring Qatar.

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