Israel’s national cybersecurity directorate chief Yigal Unna has urged his fellow countrymen and women to brace for a new wave of hacking attacks, warning that the criminal activity could target not only internet infrastructure and data, but critical life-sustaining services such as water utilities as well.
“The cyber winter is coming and coming faster than even I suspected…The level of attacks will probably get more sophisticated and deadlier,” Unna warned, speaking at a tech security conference on Thursday, his comments cited by Israeli media.
“We will remember this last month, May 2020, as a turning point in the history of modern warfare…What we faced here in Israel with the attempted attack – a synchronized and organized attack [targeting water infrastructure]…if the bad guys had succeeded in their plot, we would now be facing, in the middle of the corona crisis, very big damage to the civilian population and a lack of water and even worse than that,” Unna said, referring to last month’s attempted hack attack of six utilities' facilities.
Israel suspects Iran of being behind the water facilities attack, and reportedly launched a massive cyberattack on the major Iranian port of Shahid Rajaee on May 9 ‘in response’, temporarily knocking out the port’s computer systems. Both countries’ authorities have since claimed that the attacks caused limited damage. Neither nation has admitted to hacking the other.
Commenting on the failed April utility systems attack, Unna claimed it was “the first time” that Israel’s cybersecurity services have seen “something like that aiming to cause damage to real life, not to IT, not to data, which is pretty serious by itself in the modern world.”
The cyber czar warned that his forces were “now in the middle of preparing for the next phase to come because it will come eventually. Now we managed to mitigate it and overcome it, but I’m afraid it’s only the sign of the first major attack of a new era, of humanitarian targets,” he said.
Mossad is known to have carried out cyberattacks on critical Iranian infrastructure going back to at least 2010, when a mole installed the infamous Stuxnet malware programme into Iran’s Natanz nuclear power station in a sabotage attack. The operation is believed to have involved Mossad, the CIA and Dutch intelligence.