NSA’s Joyce: Israel faces ‘enormous amount of cyber pressure’ from Iran, hacktivists

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Israel is experiencing direct cyber and misinformation attacks from a variety of adversaries as it battles Hamas, according to a senior National Security Agency official.

“There actually is an enormous amount of cyber pressure” on Israel today, said Rob Joyce, the head of the spy agency’s cybersecurity directorate, during a lunch panel Wednesday at the Aspen Cyber Summit moderated by Recorded Future News’ Dina Temple-Raston. “Now, the good news is, most of it is either nuisance attacks or not significantly impactful. So you’ve got some wiper viruses. There’s been some ransomware events.”

In some of the most extensive remarks on the cyber aspect of the conflict by a senior U.S. official since it began, Joyce said there are three groups that Israel “is worried about right now.”

The first is the Iranian government. Tehran has been Hamas’ longtime benefactor and U.S. national security leaders have sounded the alarm that Iran could bring its own formidable digital might to the conflict.

“The cyber targeting of American interests and critical infrastructure that we already see conducted by Iran and non-state actors alike we can expect to get worse if the conflict expands, as will the threat of kinetic attacks,” FBI Director Christopher Wray recently testified.

The second main threat comes from hacktivists, according to Joyce, who warned it can be difficult to tell if the groups are independent or backed by actual nation states.

Lastly, ransomware criminals have also sought to take advantage of the conflict, he noted.

The ongoing battle has forced Israel “to get much better at their cyberdefenses,” Joyce told the audience. “They have created structures and processes, and done a lot of work” to better protect their critical infrastructure from adversaries.

Of the three, most malicious activity has come from Iran and hacktivists. Joyce declined to say if Russia has also become a digital player in the conflict.

However, misinformation has “probably” had the most impact in the struggle, he added, highlighting an instance where an app used by Israelis to warn of incoming missile strikes went “completely red” with warnings that turned out to be false.

Joyce declined to say who was responsible for the incident.

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Martin Matishak is a senior cybersecurity reporter for The Record. He spent the last five years at Politico, where he covered Congress, the Pentagon and the U.S. intelligence community and was a driving force behind the publication’s cybersecurity newsletter.

 

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