Iran Tries to Take On Israel in Cyberwarfare

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On April 24, the Islamic Republic launched a cyberattack on Israel’s water system. Had it succeeded, Israel’s water supply might have been severely damaged, with too much chlorine poured in, making it unfit for human consumption. Israel’s cyber defense systems identified and blocked the attack before it did more than disable a few pumps for several minutes.

This was, according to some Israeli sources, a “primitive” attempt, but nonetheless, a harbinger of much worse to come. For a line was crossed: this was the first time that purely civilian infrastructure had been deliberately targeted by cyberwarriors.

The story, at Algemeiner, is here:

The head of Israel’s National Cyber Directorate said Thursday that following a recent Iranian cyber-attack on the Jewish state’s water system, it was clear that “the cyber winter is coming and coming faster than even I suspected.”

Israel’s Channel 13 reported that Director-General Yigal Unna, speaking to a virtual conference held by the Israeli platform Cybertech, said, “We will remember this last month as a changing point in the history of modern cyber-warfare.”…

We all remember the Stuxnet attack, a form of cyberwarfare launched by Israel that caused hundreds of Iran’s centrifuges to malfunction, speeding up to such a degree that they destroyed themselves. Israel ranks just behind the Americans in cyberwarfare and cybersecurity capabilities. Israel has never before tried to attack civilian targets, as the Iranians have now done with this attack on Israel’s water supply. But its retaliation showed that it was prepared to do so, in a demonstration to Iran of its capabilities, with an attack on a port at Bandar Abbas, which handles 60% of Iran’s seagoing traffic.

He [Yigal Unna] noted that the attack was also unique in that it was not criminal, but rather a military-style assault on essential civilian infrastructure.

Israel, he said, believed that this represented a paradigm shift for which it must prepare.

“We are now waiting for the next phase to come,” Unna said, “and it will come eventually. … I’m afraid that [the attack is] only the first major sign of a new era of attacks aiming at humanitarian [sic for "civilian”] targets.”

“If we thought there are some rules of engagement or some lines that shouldn’t be or never be crossed, well all the lines are crossed and going to cross even harder in the coming future,” he said.

“The cyber winter is coming and coming faster than even I suspected,” Unna added, saying attacks will now become “more sophisticated and deadlier.”…

Iran’s attempted attack was immediately discovered and thwarted by Israel’s cyberwarriors.

The retaliation by Israel, on the other hand, succeeded magnificently.

Satellite imagery and Western intelligence reports indicate that the retaliation by Israel on May 9 was far more powerful than the attack attributed to Iran. “The damage caused to the port Bandar Abbas was significant and the chaos it created lasted for days, and is actually not yet over,” a former senior Israeli intelligence source said. The Iranian port was paralyzed for at least three days, with most of its computer systems crashing, endless lines of trucks outside its gates and a giant traffic jam of vessels blocking entry from the sea at Iran’s busiest port, handling 60% of its seagoing traffic.

The Iranians made great efforts in trying to contain the attack, minimize damage and restore the port to full operations as fast as possible. But the port was paralyzed for three days, and it took even longer to fully restore operations.

The attack, which snarled traffic around the port for days, was carried out by Israel as both a retaliatory strike and a warning. The Israelis were semaphoring a message to the rulers in Tehran: “This is just a small sample of what we are capable. We could have done much more. Don’t try cyberattacks on our civilian targets again. You are more vulnerable than we are.”

Iran has been ranked among the top 20 countries in cyberwarfare capabilities. But tiny Israel consistently is rated as second, after the United States, in such capabilities. Israel’s retaliatory cyberattack, that managed to cause the computers that regulate shipping traffic at Iran’s most important port to crash, sent “the whole country into disarray” (according to an American official) for days.

Iran attempted to downplay Israel’s cyberattack, with officials first denying that anything had gone wrong at the port, and after a day describing it as the work of some “hackers” who damaged a small number of computers in a failed cyber-attack against the port of Bandar Abbas. But since then there has been no repetition of that claim, only a stunned silence from the Iranians. They will have to think long and hard before daring to attack a civilian target in Israel again. They were sent a clear message at Bandar Abbas; the computers were brought down, and 60% of Iran’s seagoing traffic was halted for days. If the Iranians persist in their folly, the next cyber message from Israel will be much, much worse.

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