The United States not only didn’t really make a fuss about Russian hacking in 2016 — we had a formal strategy for dealing with it. Russia did not even try to hack into the U.S. election system in 2016, and yet the leaders of the Democrat Party were panicked and went along with WikiLeaks’ release of hacked emails.
We’ve also learned that hackers are constantly trying to infiltrate our electronic military networks and that we’re not too great at preventing that. And we don’t, in fact, know how to take down our enemies’ cyberwarfare capabilities.
But here in Israel, where cybersecurity has been one of the top national priorities for years, we know how to defeat our enemies. And a top cyber security expert is calling for all nations to invest billions of dollars in “cyber force” — a massive effort to counterattack any country that hacks into our computers.
“No matter who attacks Israel, we can and we will,” Lt. Gen. Yuval Steinitz, the head of Israel’s military intelligence agency, told the Associated Press this week.
Steinitz and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been increasingly pressing their case at a time when foreign leaders such as Russian President Vladimir Putin are pleading for an end to the West’s efforts to punish Russia for its alleged involvement in U.S. 2016 election meddling.
But Steinitz’s declaration this week that Israel is well prepared to defend itself from cyberattackers stands in contrast to what cyber experts on the U.S. cybersecurity battlefield tell us. Experts — and even U.S. intelligence — have warned that Russian hackers are now targeting everything from elections to nuclear weapons sites in the United States.
And in an embarrassing dust-up, a federal cybersecurity contractor admitted earlier this year that while its government contract for the Secure Voting System, a novel and promising security system, had been terminated, it is still collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars from the government and is not doing any real work.
U.S. officials fear that Israel and other nations could build on this nascent cyber security industry.
Israel, for example, is among the world’s biggest weapons exporters, so there is a potential market for its expertise if its leaders decide to invest heavily in a global cyber industry.
“Cyber is a new field for Israel, and it’s growing rapidly,” said Moshe Tal, an Israeli expert on cybersecurity and U.S. citizen who retired as a cyber warfare coordinator for Israel’s Defense Ministry.
“But it’s hard to compete with companies in the United States — these are the authorities in the field. Israel’s defense industry is much smaller and I don’t know if the government would invest enough in this business. They’ll have to do it behind closed doors if they want to stay ahead of the pack.”
In the wake of ongoing and deteriorating tensions with Iran, which has been accused of developing and stockpiling nuclear weapons, Israel is also expected to increase its cyber warfare capabilities.
The United States, Israel’s friend and longtime ally, may find it difficult to combat the threat.
Cyberwarfare experts say that Israel’s larger population means it can be much more selective and effective at recruiting talented cyber scientists, as compared to the United States.
The Big Guy
That doesn’t mean Israeli computer experts should be taken lightly.
Folks here are big, take their jobs seriously and are extremely fast and efficient. Because Israel is smaller than the United States, experts say the country’s policy is far more consultative and rigid than America’s. There is no free hand.
Other nations are also starting to make cybersecurity a national security priority, said Dr. Theodore Postol, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who specializes in electronic warfare and cyber security.
“The question is how best to assure that all countries invest in securing their electronic military systems, especially those related to critical infrastructure,” he said. “There are more than 1,000 organizations (in the U.S. military) involved in cybersecurity. The Israelis are spending 10 percent to 20 percent of their budget on it. The U.S. is just 5 percent.”
On this week’s podcast: Cybersecurity expert Theodore Postol on how France is taking charge of its cyber defenses, how Israel and Iran are building a cyber industry and what it’s like to work on cyber in the U.S.
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In Israel, cybersecurity is a national security