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Israel '15 years ahead' in cyber warfare capabilities

Senior IDF official says cyber attacks against Israel down overall in 2015 - but many significant threats remain.

Kobi Finkler,

Hackers (illustrative)
Hackers (illustrative)

The IDF's ongoing battle against cyber warfare has transformed the face of the Israeli military, but there is still much room for improvement, according to a senior IDF official.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the senior officer said cyber attacks against Israel - while still ongoing - were down overall in 2015 compared to previous years.

Relating to recent revelations that both British and American intelligence agencies had spied on Israeli officials, and even hacked Israeli military software, the source insisted that Israel's secret codes "have not been decoded."

"The IDF's code has not been decoded, and this is a great achievement," he said.

That said, he added that there is still plenty of room for improvement as far as the IDF's intelligence-gathering capabilities are concerned.

By way of example he cited the "worrying" fact that, during Israel's 2014 war with Gazan terrorists, "Hamas with other organizations succeeded in firing, despite all (Israel's) air- and cyber-superiority, more than 5,000 rockets and missiles towards Israel."

In confronting the range of rapidly-evolving challenges facing Israel, its armed forces have to evolve just as rapidly, he added - sometimes in ways contrary to what one might expect. "The IDF of the modern age is a totally different army," he said.

Spy agencies and other hostile organizations focus a great deal of their efforts on hacking and penetrating governments' online resources, meaning internet-based resources are always vulnerable. One way of avoiding such problems altogether was by going offline, he continued, claiming Russia's security services were considering doing precisely that: conducting classified correspondence with good old-fashioned pen and paper - at least much as is operationally possible.

"Cyber warfare has become a legitimate tool," he added, pointing to a recent suspected Russian cyber attack on Turkey following the downing of a Russian fighter jet late last year.

"For around 20 hours this entire, large country (Turkey) was without internet," he said. "Not far from there, the power plants in Ukraine were shut down and Kiev airport was closed - all due to cyber activities."

While praising the "revolutionary" advances within the IDF, including the founding of a separate cyber arm of the military - on par with conventional land, sea and air forces - the official warned that the IDF was not immune to such attacks. However, the Israeli military does boast some of the most advanced cyber capabilities in the world.

"We are ahead of the rest of the world in digital capabilities by at least 15 years. We're integrated operational internet capabilities which enable any commander to do anything in any place," the officer explained.

Only four other world militaries have similar capibilities: the United States, Britain, Germany - and Iran.