During Operation Protective Edge, pro-Palestinian hackers attempted a major cyber attack against Israel. IDF and Israeli security forces foiled the attack, but hackers remain determined to harm essential Israeli infrastructure.
During Operation Protective Edge, the IDF’s technology stopped hundreds of attacks against Israeli civilians. While the Iron Dome intercepted rockets fired from Gaza, advanced robots helped forces destroy tunnels leading into Israel. What’s less known is how the IDF’s cutting-edge technology thwarted a major cyber threat.
Throughout the operation, the IDF cooperated with the Israel Security Agency (ISA or Shin Bet Security Service) to foil an attack against Israelis over the internet. Hackers planned the attack with the help of Iran on Al-Quds Day, an annual event organized by Iranian leaders against Zionism. The attack involved hackers from all over the world who attempted to disable Israeli websites.
The IDF’s cyber defense division played a central role in Israel’s efforts to confront the threat. According to Col. N, the division’s commander, Operation Protective Edge put his unit to the test, proving its ability to combat cyber threats.
“It wasn’t like this in previous operations,” Col. N says. “For the first time, there was an organized cyber defense effort alongside combat operations in the field. This was a new reality.”
The attack’s massive scale came as a surprise to Israeli forces. At the beginning of the operation, security services and internet providers identified only a few attempts to commit cyber attacks. They defined pro-Palestinian hackers as independent actors whose attacks were neither sophisticated nor coordinated.
But as the operation continued, Israel’s understanding of the threat evolved. According to Col. N, it became clear that pro-Palestinian groups played a role in the attack. “Today, they’re organizing much more quickly, and it takes them much less time to carry out powerful strikes,” he says. “During Operation Protective Edge, we saw attacks on a greater scale and on a more sophisticated level. A significant amount of thought and investment stood behind the attacks we saw.”
Larger and more sophisticated attacks
“There was a direct connection between the progression of the fighting and cyber attacks,” Col. N says. “Once the IDF began its ground operation, there was a surge in the number of attacks and their level of sophistication.”
As time passes, Israel faces a growing cyber threat. “I won’t be surprised if, next time, we meet [terrorists] in the cyber dimension,” Col. N explains. Cyber defense experts have predicted a range of horrific scenarios. Terrorists could steal top-secret security information, gain remote access to armed drones and use them to attack Israel, seize credit-card information, hack into the Tel Aviv stock exchange, and shut down Israel’s electrical grid. For years, global security experts have warned of a massive attack that would paralyze the state and disable the military.
Col. N warns that radical powers such as Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah are intensifying the cyber threat against Israel. “There is a significant amount of development in the cyber field,” he explains. “This is a field that [these groups] are already involved in … and all of these groups share information.”
Looking into the future, Col. N emphasizes that the IDF must focus on preventive strikes. “It’s not possible to act if you only think about the fence all the time. My goal is to prevent [enemies] from reaching the fence,” he says. While he hesitates to elaborate on the IDF’s methods to prevent these threats, he stresses that “there are ways of foiling attacks.”
The Israeli publication Calcalist contributed to this report.