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McAfee: Israel tops cyber-defense survey

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Sunday, February 12th, 2012

As reported in Globes:

Israel, Finland and Sweden top the McAfee cyber-defense survey of leading experts’ perception of a nation’s defenses, with a score of 4.5 out of 5. The rankings are based on the perceived quality of a country’s cyber-readiness – the ability to cope with a range of threats and attacks.

Israel tops the US, UK, Germany, Spain, France, Netherlands and Estonia (which was the target of alleged Russian cyber attacks several years ago) in the rankings, each of which received 4 out 5 points.

The report found China, Brazil and Mexico as among the countries least able to defend themselves against emerging attacks. It concludes that greater global sharing of information is necessary to keep ahead of threats, and recommends giving more power to law enforcement to fight cross-border crime.

McAfee CTO Raj Samani says, “The subjectiveness of the report is its biggest strength. What it does is give the perception of cyber-readiness by those individuals who kind of understand and work in cyber security on a day-in, day-out basis.”

A good score depends on having basic measures like adequate firewalls and antivirus protection, and more complex matters including well-informed governance and education.

“Cyber security is not about saving information or data, but about something deeper than that. It’s about securing different life systems regulated by computers. In Israel, we realized this ten years ago,” says Cyber security advisor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Isaac Ben-Israel “A cyber war can inflict the same type of damage as a conventional war. If you want to hit a country severely, you hit its power and water supplies. Cyber technology can do this without firing a single bullet.”

Ben-Israel says that Israel sees 1,000 cyber attacks every minute, but that there is a hierarchy of threats. “The hacktivist group Anonymous carries out lots of attacks, but they don’t do much damage. The real threat is from states and major crime organizations.” He adds that Israel is formulating national policies to actively respond to cyber attacks.

Last year, Ben-Israel headed a cybernetic taskforce that submitted recommendations to the government. They include establishing a cyber authority, research centers, and increased cooperation between the government, business, and academe. On the basis of the recommendations, Israel is implementing a five-year plant to place itself in the cyber-security lead, including investment in R&D, the establishment of a supercomputer center, boosting studies in cybernetics, and encouraging industry to develop new technologies.

Ben-Israel says that, in 2002, Israel drew up a list of 19 major infrastructures, including power plants, the water supply, and the banking system. “We faced a legal problem: how do you force the private sector infrastructure to protect themselves against a cyber attack? So we changed the laws. The level of government interference in the private sector is a dilemma.”

Israel believes that critical national infrastructure is not adequately protected against cyber attack. Although it is generally believed that the Stuxnet virus that disabled centrifuges at Iran’s Natanz nuclear plant was a joint US-Israel design, neither country has acknowledged this.

The report notes Israel’s law requiring all new homes and apartments to have a bomb-proof room. Ben-Israel explains, “People accepted this law because of our experience with Scud missiles in 1991. The threat was real and people felt it was real. It would have been unimaginable to establish the [US] Patriot Act before 9/11. Once people in the street realize that terrorism is very real, they accept things. Cyber attacks are not just a technological problem, but also legal, political, and societal problems.”

Ben Israel says that Israel is a model for effective collaboration between industry, defense and academe. “We have a legal framework to tell private industry what measures to take to secure the power, water, and banking systems,” but warns, “If you look at the threat potential, there is still a lot to do.”

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news – www.globes-online.com – on January 31, 2012