Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak confirmed one of the worst-kept Israeli military-intelligence secrets by acknowledging that his nation has a cyber warfare capability. His comments came on the heels of revelations here that the recent attacks by an ambitious cybervirus called Flame, were the product of Israeli military cyber-hackers. The NY Times has also reported extensively in the past few weeks about U.S.-Israeli cooperation in creating and infiltrating the Stuxnet and Duqu viruses into Iranian computer and industrial systems to sabotage their nuclear facilities.
Barak’s comments appear to be an attempt to control and modulate the debate so that Israel is seen in a more flattering light than it otherwise deserves. One of the especially egregious claims he made is that Israel’s cyber war program is essentially defensive in nature:
Barak stressed that in cyber warfare…it is more important to invest in defense than offense, and admitted for the first time that Israel has been developing and working on both tactics.
“Our goal with cyber defense, which is the more important and difficult component, is to prevent damage,” Barak said. “It is more than we can benefit from an offensive action, even though both aspects exist.”
If you believe any of this I have both a bridge and some swampland in Florida to sell you.
All of this is especially ironic in light of the fact that Barak’s chief of staff IDF officer Yoni Koren has been testifying in the long-running Harpaz investigation (Hebrew). You’ll recall that this involved a gargantuan power struggle between then IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi and Barak over whether Ashkenazi’s term would be extended and who would succeed him. Once Barak made clear he refused to lengthen the IDF chief’s tenure, they began to war over their preferred candidates. The war was so bitter and unrelenting that both Ashkenazi and Barak resorted to tactics like spying, leaks and other sordid behavior.
Koren said this about the level of paranoia and psychic suffering he experienced:
“Paranoia” was how Koren described his frame of mind. He described his feelings that he was being watched [by Ashkenazi’s underlings], that his telephone and office were bugged and his computer hacked. He even once turned on his computer and it rattled.
Koren believes his computer was compromised a number of times. The first time he confirmed this through the IT department of the defense ministry. The second time, he reported it to the Shin Bet and they attempted to identify the method of the hack. The Shin Bet at first refused to get involved saying there was no external intrusion it could find. Then it said the problem wasn’t “aggressive” and that he therefore shouldn’t worry. But he was certain that a Trojan virus had hacked his computer and could extract data from it.
You’ll recall that when I first posted about Flame, I mentioned that my Israeli source confirmed this was the first time an Israeli cyberweapon was used against a domestic target. Now he has further confirmed that when Ashkenazi complained to the Shin Bet that he suspected that the Koren was spying on him, it hacked into Koren’s computer using Flame. Though Koren didn’t know it, he became one of the first known Israeli victims of Israel’s latest cyberweapon, Flame.
Of course, the reason the security service told Koren first that there was no external intrusion and then that the virus wasn’t “aggressive” was that it was the Shin Bet itself which had hacked his computer. Naturally, they couldn’t find a virus they themselves had implanted! This means as well that the Shin Bet was taking the IDF/Ashkenazi’s side in its confrontation with Barak’s defense ministry, as it has as well in fighting against Barak’s putative attack on Iran.
Ehud Barak knows first-hand that Flame is an offensive, not a defensive weapon. His own chief of staff was one of Flame’s first domestic victims. He’s lying to say otherwise.