Several months ago a flock of alien spaceships were on their way to invade the planet when advanced Israeli radar systems identified them. It was then up to the technological unit of the Israeli Air Force to thwart the dangerous alien invasion by infiltrating the main spaceship’s technological systems and attacking them from within. The soldiers only had 12 hours to hack the systems, gather intelligence and stop the aliens.
This unique (and fabricated) scenario was part of the Israel Air Force’s cyber defense awareness training. Each squad within the ‘Ofek’ Technological Unit of the IAF sent a team of programmers to compete in the event, that took place this year for the sixth time. The teams competed over hacking a previously built system that resembled an alien spaceship while going through different stages of attacking the system.
The objective of the event was to let the IAF programmers step into the shoes of their enemies for a day and experience what it’s like to hack and attack complex technological systems. “The participants in the event develop operational technological systems for the Air Force on a daily basis,” explained the commander of the engineering unit, Lt. Col. Meir. “Our goal was to help them understand the importance of secured program development. We wanted to adapt the training to the young and ambitious members of ‘Generation Y’, therefore we created the story line of an alien invasion to increase their interest.”
The cyber threat to Israel has drastically increased in recent years. During Operation Protective Edge, Hamas – the terrorist organization controlling the Gaza Strip – hacked several Israeli civilian communication systems. When enemies hack computerized systems there are no immediate casualties, no bombs going off or gunfire heard. It’s very difficult to to track down hackers and retaliate, making the cyber world an optimal front for terrorist organizations.
“During the event the teams competed with each other over hacking a system that we had previously built,” said the head of the IAF cyber sphere, Maj. Gil. “As they attempted to hack the systems, they were also required to gather intelligence about the alien spaceships, which was crucial for its infiltration. Ultimately, if we compare this scenario to the real world, it will help them understand how important it is to protect secret content in the IAF.”
The Israel Air force operates a wide array of advanced technological systems including UAVs, aerial protection systems, missile interception systems and more. The threat of hostile infiltration and attacks on these systems is increasingly eminent. Yet, the IAF remains prepared to cope with it.
“Sometimes it takes time to recognize and track down intrusions in the cyber world, that’s exactly why it’s important to prevent the option of infiltration in advance by building programs that are both defensible and secure,” emphasized Lt. Col. Meir. “For that purpose we train our program developers and expose them to the issue.”
Hopefully, the Israel Air Force won’t be dealing with alien invasions any time soon, but due to creative training operations like these, the IDF (Zahal) is undeniably prepared to cope with many other serious, and real threats.