The party behind the cyber attacks against Israel is first and foremost Iran. Iran and its proxies take advantage of the security anonymity of cyberspace to attack many other countries around the world. This will be the century where cyber security will either be achieved or we will lose the tremendous opportunities that face humanity.
Following are Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s remarks (Sunday, 14 September 2014), at Tel Aviv University, at the 4th International Cybersecurity Conference:
Last month the State of Israel faced the threat of Hamas rockets and tunnels and overcame it. Our enemies in these various terrorist organizations, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, as they fail in the military and the terror campaigns that they launch against us, continue to try to attack us through other ways, including in the field of cyber attacks. And that is an arena that is changing, both here and elsewhere and it’s accelerating in dizzying pace.
The attack by our enemies on Israel’s civilian – and I stress civilian – internet infrastructure during the recent operation. These attacks were clearly meant to disrupt the daily lives of Israelis, to harm us, but those same attacks failed exactly in the same way as the terror campaign, as the terror attacks, the rockets and the tunnel attacks failed.
There is a world of difference however in dealing with these attacks and dealing with rockets and tunnels. With rockets and tunnels you know where they originate; you know who the enemy is. You know that virtually instantaneously. But in the cyber domain there are no sirens, and there are no instantly discernable enemies. That’s often the case. This is a space in which there isn’t a ‘here’ and a ‘there.’ There isn’t the side of Israel, the side of Gaza, and the attacks try to cross that line. In fact, it’s a very broad domain which is very hard to define where your space ends and somebody else’s space, including the attackers’, begins. So, the attacks, in a sense, always come from within.
Now, we identify those attacks, and we stop them. But the fact that the cyber attacks did not affect Israel’s daily routine and economy and they certainly did not affect the IDF efforts – those facts derive from the fact that we have the finest minds, literally, the finest minds in Israel’s security community and our cyber industry working to give us those defenses. There’s an iron dome of cyber security that parallels the Iron Dome against the rockets and this allowed us the operating space to continue fighting and of course to continue with the daily life of Israel.
A year ago at this conference, I described the threat developing in the cyber sphere against Israel and the actions that our enemies – headed by Iran – are taking against us in that field. We have witnessed now, in the recent operation, Hamas’s efforts against us. We saw that throughout the operation. But I want to make clear that the party behind the cyber attacks against Israel is first and foremost Iran, including in the Hamas attacks. Iran supports all our enemies; Iran is the source of most of the attacks that are launched against Israel and we are not their only targets in the cyber field. Iran and its proxies take advantage of the security anonymity of cyberspace to attack many other countries around the world.
We are unrelenting in confronting this threat. We’re increasing our efforts to deal with a range of cyber threats out of an understanding of the importance of cyber security to Israel’s continued economic growth and its security.
I mention both, because both are important: We want to protect the security of our country, the security and privacy of our citizens, but at the same time, we also identify great economic opportunity.
We’re currently advancing a number of dramatic actions that I think will transform the cyber field in Israel. This is a work in process for us and for our allies around the world, for every country. Cyber is moving very rapidly. It’s changing very rapidly and you have to decide with a certain amount of uncertainty how it is that you’re going to tackle a field as complex and as ever-changing as cyber security.
It is a daunting task, I always find the most difficult part of any change, structural change – in the economy or in education or in any field, in defense and in cyber defense – I find the greatest challenge to be not the organizational challenge, not the forces that often clash – competing interests and so on. I find the greatest challenge to be the intellectual challenge, the conceptual challenge: what is right, what is the best thing that we should do. Then you start to make all the adjustments for what is possible, what you can pay for, what is politically required and so on. You make the adjustments. You trim off the edges of the main conception. But the most important thing in any reform is the conception of what is right, what is necessary.
And in cyber this is particularly difficult for the simple reason that nobody knows. Nobody truly knows. It’s such a moving target, such an expanding and ever-changing world that you have to make certain assumptions and go with them and probably you’ll have to adjust them as you go along. Whatever it is we do, we have to allow for changes as we go along, especially in this field.
So we are going to make some strategic decisions and we are making great investments in the goal of making a quantum leap forward in the governmental and the national response in the cyber sphere. We are going to combine two important efforts: One, to transform the government into an exemplar for robust cyber defense in order to protect our digital assets and also to strengthen the trust of millions of our citizens who enjoy government services; and second, we’re going to standardize the cyber defense market in order to ensure that the entire Israeli economy will have professional people and services in the highest level.
You do that in various fields where you need specialists. Government sets standards and some checks so that the various services that are given – it doesn’t provide necessarily the services in all cases – but it makes sure that the standards are met to ensure that people are given what they deserve and we intend to do this as well. The attacks that I’ve just mentioned and many others that I haven’t mentioned I think provide additional evidence that the cyber sphere is becoming increasingly a battlefield. Israel fields it from several directions. It originates in Iran, but not only from Iran. So let me reiterate: We are bolstering our defenses and we are committed to maintaining Israel’s position as a global cyber power and as such we have to implement a policy which protects cyberspace as an open space and as the basis for global growth.
I want to assure you that Israel will always know how to use its unique strengths and knowledge to protect our country and as far as we can to protect the world’s commitment to cyber growth. Because I think that there is a tremendous responsibility that comes with power always, but also a tremendous responsibility to assure the economic opportunities that are afforded by the growth of the internet economy, the internet world. The internet of things, the internet of people, all of that creates tremendous opportunities for growth, and that growth, the increase of productivity for billions of people: instant communications, transfer of funds, the movement of ideas, the movement of capital, the movement of initiative, or enterprise – all of that is under risk by cyber attackers who have the capacity to inflict increasing damage, and the attacker always has the advantage as you well know. And so we have to work at the same time as we integrate into this modern world, as we provide entrepreneurs for this modern world, we have to work at providing security for this great change.
I believe that this is a tremendous engine of economic growth because I don’t think there’s a person on Earth who’s not going to need cyber security. I don’t think there is a nation on Earth that is not going to need cyber security. Some of them violate that security left and right, but every country and every citizen of this planet will need cyber security and this will be the century where cyber security will either be achieved or we will lose the tremendous opportunities that face humanity.
Long before the term cyber became known and commonplace, Israeli companies developed the first cyber technology: the first firewall, several of the first antivirus technologies. All these were developed here, and over the past several years we’ve seen a veritable explosion of start-up companies that are breaking new ground in dealing with a range of threats using innovative technologies and defense solutions.
I think you can see proof of this that over the last nine months alone, twenty Israeli start-up companies have raised more than 170 million dollars. The investors aren’t doing this for charity. They know why they’re here and I think you know why you’re here and we welcome you in that spirit because we think that there are tremendous opportunities for real needs for the civilized countries, real needs for their citizens and real economic opportunities that come out of these needs. Because people’s dependence on cyber keeps increasing and so is the necessity to offer cyber defense.
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that cyber defense solutions will serve as the essential basis for human development and economic growth in this century. I think it’s happening before our eyes and everything that you see, these curves that seem to reach into the stratosphere, they are going to continue. They’re not going to stop, providing we solve this problem or at least control this problem or mitigate it.
And in light of these developments, three years ago we determined this area to be a top priority in our nation’s future and we’re building an Israeli cyber environment with an eye to the long-term. Israel R&D will continue to be at the forefront of many years to come thanks to the strategic investment in the industry by the government and the private sector, both in human resources and in academia. And this event I think marks a perfect example of this partnership. I think it demonstrates the importance of working together because when you’re dealing with cyber, you have to deal with the private sector, with academia and with the government. And what we believe is that we can fashion this growth by a unique system that integrates the three in a very, very determined and purposeful way.
The research center which is being launched here today as a joint initiative of the National Cyber Bureau and Tel Aviv University, under the leadership of Professor Isaac Ben Israel and with an investment of tens of millions of shekels, I think it embodies the understanding of the unique interdisciplinary nature of the cyber field and the significance of the connection between people and computers, between this software, that hardware – it has to keep evolving and changing.
We also have a flagship project, the establishment of the national cyber campus. Now here is a bit of copywriting, which is brilliant. It’s called Cyber Spark. It’s a cyber-park and it’s situated in Beersheba where we’re moving – General Alexander, we’re moving our NSA right into that campus so we have academia, government, well, security, and private investors all within a range of 200 meters one from each other. Just in the same place. There is still a value, even in the cyber world, for people to actually be able to meet one another and exchange ideas, even face-to-face. That is still important. And that is, I think, is fast becoming a hub of global innovation and I think Beersheba will become a very, very important cyber city in the years to come. It’s already becoming that.
We are now establishing a center for applied cyber research at Ben Gurion University in Beersheba, and we’re working to establish the national Cyber Event Readiness Team, CERT, which will become – well, it’s important, very important for the protection of Israel, but it’s also I think a magnet on campus and it will have its own reverberations into the economic enterprises that are attached to it.
In order to strengthen the industry, just a few weeks ago, the government decided, adopted a resolution regarding special tax benefits for companies that would establish cyber activities in the framework of Cyber Spark so you now have tax benefits. I think there are other benefits, but I want you to have all the benefits because one of the things we want to see is your partnership. We know that it’s virtually impossible to prevent, to create delineation of space where our common enemies are operating from and our own space. But at the same time, there’s every reason to incorporate our partnerships in that same spirit. If the cyberspace unites all of us, then let’s unite to protect the cyberspace. And that is why I’m so proud to be here and that is why I welcome you to Israel. I hope you look around, see if what I’m saying makes sense and if it is, invest in Israeli cyber.
Thank you very much.