IDF's new Cyber Division is starting to pick up the pace of its defense activities, against a silent and deadly threat that grows day by day, threatening to paralyze the Iron Dome air defense system, disrupt tanks' and fighter planes' computer systems, or even steal sensitive classified information.
IDF Cyber Chief of Staff Brig. Gen. Yaron Rozen, a former Apache pilot, spoke with Ynet about the complexities and importance of the unit's operations.
"Israel must prepare for this front strategically. It's not something that's going to wait for us, it's a global phenomenon that’s changing humanity," said Rozen. "The changes in this era are exponential, so that you might not even know what will happen tomorrow.
"The cyber front ignores world order. It has no limits, no rules. Israel is part of this new global game, and only now are other countries starting to grasp the military and political strength that could be gained by proficiency in cyber warfare."
Reading between the lines, one could understand that he was referring to international incidents that changed the reality of billions, created or affected by cyber warfare. Such incidents include claims of hacking against the US's democratic party during the elections, to stealing classified information and implanting it online as "fake news" to influence Geo-political developments.
"It’s a war of information. How hard is it to hack into your email account, steal sensitive information you do not wish to be public and pressure you into doing something specific?" wondered Rozen aloud. "What if ISIS uses an Israeli server, a civilian one, among many others we have across the country, for a terror attack?"
So why not formulate a national treaty, like the one against the usage of chemical weapons?
"This whole front resides in the civilian world, not in the military one. Look how long it took nations across the globe to sign the Kyoto Treaty, which deals with global warming and affects everyone. The Cyber nations are not just the superpowers, but huge international corporations like Google, Facebook and Kaspersky.
"We want to delay and prevent wars, and cyber defense helps immensely with that." Rozen avoided elaborating on the subject, but admitted that cyber defense is not always reactive, but sometimes an active undertaking.
"Cyber defense is not like guarding a mall. There's a continuous stream of operational cyber activity, there are joint missions kinetic reality (referring to the physical reality that includes the Israeli Air Force, the Navy and so forth—ed).
"Nonetheless, we should be careful, because Israel is a technological power, everything is 'cyber' here. If you would have measured Israel by its cyberspace, it would be one of the biggest nations in the world.
"With that understood, we should keep in mind that if your house is made of glass, you should best avoid getting rocks thrown at it."
The Cyber Division's headache begins with the fact that all of the military's combat systems are computerized: from the terminals in the entrances to IDF bases and the computer that gives the order to launch the Arrow air-defense missiles, to the Merkava (chariot) tank's operating systems and the control and supervision systems through which the General Staff guides Israel's military operations.
Rozen, though, is not too worried. "The IDF's operation systems were designed in a way that they cannot be easily compromised. Even so, those with the capabilities can hack even operation systems."
Then why shouldn’t we just have a full scale cyber-assault in the next war? Like paralyzing Lebanon without bombing bridges or neighborhoods.
"Cyber capabilities empower physical capabilities, but even if, let's say, you shut down a country's street lights control system, is that an attack against its sovereignty? Does it justify war? Who is going to declare war on whom? Will the ambassador be called to be reprimanded?
"There are no rules on that front. It's not unfounded to claim that when deliberating an attack, a question rises—how should we attack the target? By plane? or remotely, by a cyber attack?"
Rozen is not blind to the rising threats by terrorist organizations on the cyber front. "Hezbollah also invests a lot in Cyber warfare, because it is essentially an extension of Iran, and it's not stopping. Out assumption is that whatever Iran has on the cyber front, Hezbollah has it, too."
Is it possible that in the next war your unit will block a massive cyber attack on Israel, but you won't be able to identify the assailant?
"That is very possible, and it is also possible that we'll know who it was, but won't have the evidence to back up our claims, or that I'll have it without them knowing I do. The cyber threat is like the threat of steep trajectory fire—it can cover any part of Israel."
(Translated & edited by Lior Mor)