New legislation brokering American-Israeli collaboration in cybersecurity has further cemented the Jewish state’s standing as a global powerhouse in the field.
The United States-Israel Cybersecurity Cooperation Enhancement Act of 2017 (H.R. 612), which passed in the House on Jan. 31, created a grant program for joint research and development projects, and asks the US secretary of homeland security to determine research parameters in partnership with an advisory board of experts from both countries.
The bill was introduced by Representatives John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) and Jim Langevin (D-RI), who developed the concept after visiting Israel last May as part of a congressional delegation.
“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,” Langevin told JNS.org. “Israel is already a leader in cybersecurity and, by enhancing collaboration, we will be able to push the frontiers in protecting our respective homelands.”
Ratcliffe, who chairs the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Protection, said that “key areas” of national security will benefit from this increased cooperative relationship.
This legislation comes as terrorist groups continue to increase their focus on cyberwarfare.
In January 2017, Israeli security authorities revealed a Hamas operation on social networks that lured Israel Defense Forces soldiers into downloading viruses by connecting with fake accounts featuring pictures of attractive young women.
Iran 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 US had levied against it a day earlier, according to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps website.
Meanwhile, 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, according to a recent report by the McClatchy chain of American newspapers.
“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.”
Steven Stalinsky, executive director of the Washington, DC-based Middle East Media Research Institute, which monitors jihadist activity online, told JNS.org the new congressional legislation is an important development for bilateral relations in the cybersphere.
“Israel and the US share the same enemies in the cyber realm, consisting of both jihad groups as well as hacktivist groups associated with the likes of [international hacker network] Anonymous, who also target the Jewish community worldwide online,” said Stalinsky.
Gabi Siboni, head of the Cyber Security Program at the Institute for National Security Studies in Israel, told JNS.org that intelligence and other traditional forms of defense remain the most crucial points of Israeli-US collaboration, but the constantly changing cybersecurity area has been rising in importance.
“It is premature to speak of these groups launching complex cyberattacks, though they are trying to gain this capability,” Siboni said, adding that, “for now, they are mainly manipulating social media platforms to promote their interests.”
“But things are changing as we speak,” he said.
Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), the country’s largest aerospace and defense company, is adapting to that shifting landscape. It has created a cyber division that works on solutions for intelligence, monitoring, identification and combating cyberthreats, and announced this month that its cyber contracts totaled more than $100 million last year.
“We consider cyber to be a strategic field of activity and a growth-engine at IAI, and expect it to continue to expand significantly in the coming years,” IAI President and CEO Joseph Weiss said in a statement, adding that the company “will continue to invest in cyber companies and research and development centers in order to continue to expand in this field.”
Israel hosted Cybertech 2017, the world’s second-largest cybertechnology exhibition, from Jan. 30-Feb. 1 in Tel Aviv, where Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the gathering that it is “no coincidence that you are here in Israel.”
“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,” said Netanyahu. “We have invested in our security in creative ways, successful ways…We stand, all of us, at the nexus of big data, connectivity and artificial intelligence. Great opportunities, but also great challenges. And in Israel, we’re exploiting these opportunities and we’re meeting these challenges.”
“I think we’re truly on the cutting edge of this new technology and we’ve had many successes in ensuring our security,” he said.