How Israel plans to tackle cyberattacks with a ‘Cyber-Dome’

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At CyberWeek in Tel Aviv, Israel, Gaby Portnoy, the new director general of the country’s Cyber Directorate announced the Cyber-Dome project — a new big data, AI, overall approach to proactive cyberdefense. This project is expected to be a collaborative effort between cybersecurity leaders in Israel and across the globe in preparation for what Portnoy believes is unarguably “the most prominent dimension of future warfare.”

In his words, “the Cyber-Dome will elevate national cybersecurity by implementing new mechanisms in the national cyber perimeter and reducing the harm from cyberattacks at scale. The Cyber-Dome will also provide tools and services to elevate the protection of the national assets as a whole … and will synchronize nation-level real-time detection, analysis and mitigation of threats.”

Threats to Israeli cyberspace increase 

Although research has proven that every computer system is subject to cyberattack, attacks on a country’s government agencies, high-tech companies and defense infrastructure, as well as economic crimes in the million-dollar range are considered “significant” due to their wide-reaching implications. In the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) latest research, an inquiry into significant cyberattacks per country revealed Israel in the 14th position with 11 recorded wide-scale cyberattacks. What this means is that of the billion-dollar cyberattacks recorded per year, Israel has a large chunk.

For ransomware alone, a review of 80 million samples from 140 countries revealed a 600% increase in ransomware activity, earning the country the least-coveted badge of most-affected by ransomware since 2020. Health institutions were not left out of the digital ambush either, as the Israeli Ministry of Health National Cyber Directorate (INCD) recorded in 2021 a dramatic increase in the degree and quality of cyberattacks on the country’s medical sector — with approximately 1,400 attacks weekly.

Fast forward to the first half of 2022 and cyberattackers have already circulated threatening messages through several Israeli news outlets, launched a DDoS attack that led to the shutdown of many government websites, successfully surveilled sensitive members of the country’s security establishment, set off air raid sirens in two major Israeli cities and even targeted former government officials like the former U.S. Ambassador to Israel. 

Re-creating the Iron Dome effect

Even after stopping 1,500 attacks in the past year, the INCD still believed it was crucial to tighten its cyberdefenses. Just like its skies are protected by its Iron Dome — a multimission, state-of-the-art mobile missile air defense system — Israel has decided to protect its cyberspace with equal sophistication. The Cyber-Dome, an Iron Dome analogy, will be “an ongoing cyberdefense effort to keep the national cyberspace cleaner,” according to Portnoy.

In what was his first public speech as DG of the INCD, Portnoy said the first order would be to reframe the challenge by considering the security gaps as opportunities and not problems. By doing this, technology leaders are able to create cybersecure-by-design solutions that would improve the zero-trust approach, he said.

Moving forward, Portnoy emphasized that the project would shift the focus from mere resilience to broadening the defense. This way, agents from the good sides of the three-sided spectrum (attackers, cybersecurity infrastructure and the global internet) are given a level playing field to amp their defenses.

He stressed the “need to protect national assets in the best way possible and make the cybersecurity protocols used for critical infrastructure available for more sectoral organizations in the government and private domains.” By providing organizations with better cybersecurity resources like smart identification policies and improving national risk management practices, the attackers would have a harder time completing their missions.

‘You cannot fight cyber aggression alone’

In tackling these challenges, the INCD said it discovered there was no single “official enemy.” Instead, the attackers ranged from regular attackers to attack groups, proxies, independent crime-organizations and even private people. To build up a defense against these actors, Portnoy stressed that cooperation and mutual responsibility is vital. “You cannot fight cyber aggression alone. You have to have partners, at home, in your defense community, in the government, in the different sectors, in the academy, in the private sector and around the world.”

By leveraging the strength of government sector regulators, the security community, the global cybersecurity industry and even citizens, Portnoy is certain that elevating national cybersecurity defense is possible. 

CyberWeek is an international cybersecurity conference held annually in Tel Aviv, Israel. It’s organized by the INCD and the Blavatnik Interdisciplinary Cyber Research Center of Tel Aviv University.

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