Israel's Online War: Spies 'Attacking Hackers' to Counter Wave of Cyber Threats

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Israel is launching counter-attacks on hackers targeting the country, the head of the Shin Bet security service said on Tuesday. Reuters/Kacper Pempel/Files

Israel's domestic security service says its operatives are "attacking hackers" who attempt to harm the country as it continues to battle a wave of cyber attacks from across the world.

Nadav Argaman, the head of Israel's Shin Bet, said the service had used cybertechnology to help stop more than 2,000 terror attacks since the beginning of 2016.

“We are not only defending but also attacking hackers in the world,” he said. “Hackers who operate against Israel around the world find they experience unexpected problems.”

The warning is not only to individual hackers but also extremist organizations and state powers who threaten Israel's national security in cyberspace.

“We learn the patterns of activities of the enemy and know how to surprise him with counterattacks in many different ways,” Argaman said.

“We will continue to thwart threats in distant locations, and hackers who work against us should be prepared for surprises, not only in cyberspace but also in the real world. Anyone who attacks us will get a total response,” he said.

The spy chief was addressing the Cyber Week 2017 conference in Tel Aviv on Tuesday. He said the Shin Bet has not only stopped attacks inside Israel but also warned other intelligence agencies of potential strikes.

“Our rivals focus on connecting computers to the physical world, and we are creating an effective preventive defense system,” he said. “We’ve carried out dozens of smart and successful operations.”

Those stopped have included radicalized individuals who act alone and are becoming increasingly hard for security services to detect.

"To successfully locate a lone-wolf attacker is an enormous challenge," Argaman said. "The trailblazing technological improvements, along with knowing [the situation on] the ground and operational work, have contributed greatly to reducing the level of terrorism and Israel successfully dealing with the threat of such terrorists."

He said the agency requires potential recruits to solve a cyber riddle and that of 60,000 people who tried only six had successfully done so.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made tackling cyber-crime a matter of national importance as the country experiences "dozens of attacks on the national level" every month, he told the conference on Monday, attributing them to the "usual suspects."