Former Shin Bet head ‘bursts myth’ on cyber hackers who attack Israel

In his first big speech since stepping down as head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) last month, Yoram Cohen on Tuesday said he wanted to “burst the myth of retribution,” explaining that Israel always eventually learns who to hold responsible for trying to cyber-hack it.

Conventionally, most government and private sector officials say that one of the puzzles of cyber warfare is identifying who initiated a cyber attack.

Cohen’s statements, made at Tel Aviv University’s International Cybersecurity Conference, indicated that the Shin Bet’s abilities to decipher who cyber-attacks Israel are more advanced than has been previously known.

He also gave the agency credit for blocking all major cyber attacks the country has faced during his tenure (May 2011 to May 2016).

The former Shin Bet director explained that a major challenge in the field is that one small oversight could help Israeli adversaries inflict substantial harm.

At the same time, he said that Israeli intelligence had been empowered, realizing that the same was true for cyber-attacking adversaries – meaning Israel has many opportunities to inflict substantial cyber attacks from their mistakes.

Cohen pointed to three main cyber threats: computer network attacks, computer exploitation attacks and social media influence attacks.

Splitting them up, he said that while the first two are well-understood, the public is less familiar with the last one.

He explained that terrorist and jihad groups have started to launch sophisticated social media campaigns to try to mislead and frame the way that a target-country’s general public views developing events – since so much of an average person’s understanding of current affairs now depends on social media.

Latching on to a similar idea, Maj.- Gen. Herzi (Herzl) Halevi, IDF chief of military intelligence, who also spoke at the conference, described the dilemma concerning confronting these campaigns on social media.

He said that one of the questions asked is whether Israel should “plant” ideas of its own on social media to influence its adversaries in the country’s favor...


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