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Alexandra Sternlicht

2 Israeli cybersecurity experts are relatively unconcerned about hackers’ tactics

Hi there, it’s tech reporter Alexandra Sternlicht. 

This morning I interviewed two cybersecurity executives in Israel: Gil Messing, chief of staff at Check Point Software Technologies, and Avi Shua, chief innovation officer and cofounder of Orca Security. Both executives were sheltering in place during our calls. While they face the threats of bombs, rockets, and terrorism to their homes, families, and communities, they are also combating cyber warfare from their shelters for their respective jobs. But when it comes to hacking and digital warfare, they are relatively unconcerned.

“Cyberattacks are increasing by the day and getting more serious, but it’s still in the lower range of creating damage,” Messing said. “If you compare them to the physical attacks, it’s very, very marginal.”

Still, Israelis of all ages have been receiving threatening text and WhatsApp messages from Yemen and Afghanistan phone numbers. On the enterprise side, there have been over 100 attacks to public services, websites, and media outlets conducted by about 40 hacking outfits. These attacks last anywhere from minutes to hours, Messing said.

Schools have moved to online learning with mandatory shelter-in-place orders, and Hamas is infiltrating classroom Zoom lessons with hostage footage, according to Orca’s Shua. “The most important thing—and this is something that I know most people do—is to make sure that kids have their access limited, because they can be really affected by these kinds of messages,” Shua said. 

In some case, Israelis' smart home technologies have also fallen prey to Hamas and its supporters. Fewer than 100 Israelis have experienced attackers controlling their curtains, flicking lights and appliances, per Check Point. “The entire agenda here is to freak people out with invasive tactics,” Messing said. 

Israel has been long-regarded as a global cybersecurity hub. This is in large part due to its military prowess; members of the Israeli Defense Force’s 8200 cyber warfare unit have often gone on to serve in top roles at cybersecurity companies or found their own. These include $15 billion (market cap) publicly traded Check Point and $1.8 billion Orca (valuation). Now Israeli cybersecurity leaders are banding together to fight the digital front of its war against Hamas, per Reuters.  

The hacks are concerning, but Shua agreed with Messing that cybercrime is far from the top issue for Israelis right now. “The most concerning issue is not cyber warfare,” Shua said. “We are grieving thousands of people. Every family knows a few people that lost their lives or have been abducted.” 

If anything, the silver lining is that these cybersecurity experts seem unmoved by the novelty or power of these hacks. “You’ve seen this in other countries—Russia, Ukraine, China, Taiwan, and other places around the world,” said Messing as his son entered the Zoom to hug him. “I can’t say it’s something no one has ever seen before.”

Alexandra Sternlicht

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Today’s edition was curated by David Meyer.

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