US-Israel cybersecurity alliance eyes common foes


Israel’s standing as a global cybersecurity powerhouse advanced in recent weeks, with the U.S. House of Representatives passing legislation that would improve American-Israeli cooperation in that sector.

“Cybersecurity is the preeminent national security issue of the Information Age. Working together with our allies will be essential to preserving our collective defense in this new domain,” said Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), who introduced the U.S.-Israel Cybersecurity Cooperation Enhancement Act of 2017 with Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas).

“Israel is already a leader on cybersecurity, and by enhancing collaboration, we will be able to push the frontiers in protecting our respective homelands,” Langevin told

“After Jim and I traveled to Israel last year to discuss this important aspect of our national security with top officials, we defined key areas where we could boost our collaboration to strengthen our countries’ cybersecurity posture,” said Ratcliffe, who chairs the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Protection.

In January, Israeli security authorities revealed a Hamas operation on social networks attempting to lure Israel Defense Forces soldiers into downloading viruses by using fake accounts with pictures of attractive young women. A number of soldiers fell for the trick and downloaded the viruses.

Iran, meanwhile, tested its cyberwarfare systems in a Feb. 4 drill intended to “showcase the power of Iran’s revolution and to dismiss the sanctions” that the U.S. levied against the Islamic Republic a day earlier, according to Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps website.

Regarding terror groups’ use of cyberspace to launch attacks, Gabi Siboni, head of the Cyber Security Program at the Institute for National Security Studies in Israel, told that “they are doing as much as they can, but for now are mainly manipulating social media platforms to promote their interests.”

“It is premature to speak of these groups launching complex cyberattacks, though they are trying to gain this capability,” he said. “Things are changing as we speak.”

Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), the Jewish state’s largest aerospace and defense company, is adapting to that shifting landscape. The company announced this month that it is making significant gains in the cybersecurity field, with contracts totaling more than $100 million in 2016.

Israel hosted Cybertech 2017, the world’s second-largest cybertechnology exhibition, from Jan. 30 to Feb. 1 in Tel Aviv. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the gathering that it is “no coincidence that you are here in Israel” and “not an accident” that the Jewish state is a world leader in cybersecurity.

“We’re truly on the cutting edge of this new technology and we’ve had many successes in ensuring our security,” said Netanyahu. “It’s not an accident, as one would say. It’s not an accident that in the froth and gushing of this entire Middle East and beyond, Israel is a secure and safe environment. We have invested in our security in creative ways, successful ways.”

The prime minister said that such threats may “get a lot worse in the future if we don’t band together,” noting his intent to discuss cybersecurity cooperation with the U.S. during his Feb. 15 visit to the White House. Ahead of his trip to Washington, Netanyahu met in Jerusalem with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, an unofficial adviser on cybersecurity for President Donald Trump.

“I think it’s critical that we augment whatever each of us is doing alone by our cooperation both on the government-to-government level and what we can do with our cybersecurity industries,” said Netanyahu. 

In a further sign of the shared U.S.-Israel vision on cybersecurity, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder told conference attendees that “in Michigan, we also have a national service cyber unit, much like the IDF (Israel Defense Forces). We established the Michigan Cyber Civilian Corps, gathering talented individuals who can respond if anything occurs.”

As they deepen their cybersecurity ties, Israel and the U.S. will likely keep an eye on such regional developments as the ongoing Iranian-Saudi cyberwar. According to a recent report by the McClatchy newspapers, Iran and Saudi Arabia “have been lobbing digital artillery fire at each other in a simmering conflict” that started when Iranian hackers destroyed more than 30,000 computers belonging to the Saudi Aramco energy company. The cyberwar flared up in January, with Saudi Arabia issuing an “urgent call” to domestic network systems operators to be on alert for Iranian cyberattacks.

“As the Trump administration casts about for a cybersecurity policy,” wrote McClatchy national security reporter Tim Johnson, “the byte battle between Iran and Saudi Arabia may well be a harbinger for conflicts to come.”