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Israel is so far managing to counter a potentially crippling cyberattack on its national Electric Authority, but has yet to defeat it completely.
Energy Minister Yuval Steinetz told the CyberTech 2016 Conference in Tel Aviv on Tuesday that the authority already had moved to lessen the impact of the event, though he conceded that some customers remained without power.
“[On Monday] we identified one of the largest cyber attacks that we have experienced,” Steinetz told the meeting. “The virus was already identified, and the right software was already prepared to neutralize it.
“We had to paralyze many of the computers of the Israeli Electricity Authority,” the minister said. “We are handling the situation, and I hope that soon this very serious event will be over.”
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Steinetz didn’t say whether the Israeli government had identified the source of the attack, but added that it demonstrates the vulnerability of the important nationwide service that is controlled primarily with computers. “This is a fresh example of the sensitivity of infrastructure to cyberattacks,” he said, “and the importance of preparing ourselves in order to defend ourselves against such attacks.”
The cyberattack was discovered as Israelis were cranking up their home and office heating systems to cope with a sudden cold spell in which temperatures fell below freezing and electricity usage reached record levels. Officials at the Energy Ministry immediately shut down computer systems that had been infected by the cyber virus to at least mitigate the attack.
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Israel’s Electricity Authority is a department in the Ministry of Energy, and is a separate entity to the Israel Electric Corporation, the country’s state-owned electric-power utility.
The attack discovered Monday probably didn’t come as a surprise to the Israeli government. In July the country’s National Cyber Authority warned that the Jewish state was due for a massive cyberattack. Government offices dealing with infrastructure as well as security were directed to examine their computers and even cell phones for any unexpected changes.
At the time, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned the nation to be vigilant. “Cyber threats can paralyze nations,” he said. “This is a strategic threat that can paralyze and hurt no less than other threats in various fields, and we must be prepared to for it on the national and international levels.”
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Israel already has been subjected to several cyberattacks over the past two years, and the government says it suspects they were the work of the Iranian government and/or Hezbollah, the Shi’a Muslim militant group based in neighboring Lebanon.
One of the boldest attacks came in April, when members of the hacking network Anonymous digitally vandalized scores of websites of the Israeli government, private organizations in the country, personal email accounts and even Facebook pages. In its campaign, called OpIsrael, it warned of an “electronic holocaust.”
Israel responded by ensuring its anti-hacking resources are up to date at its National Cyber Authority and, last month, established a new unit in the Israel Defense Forces to oversee the country’s fight against cyberattacks.
By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com
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Andy Tully is a veteran news reporter who is now the news editor for Oilprice.com