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Army beefs up cyber-defense unit as it gives up idea of unified cyber-command
Judah Ari Gross, Times of Israel, May 14 2017

According to a senior IDF kosher intel boxtop source & handout, the IDF is officially abandoning plans for a unified cyber-command meant to bring the military’s online activities under one roof, keeping its cyber-defense arm separate from its intelligence collection division, in a reorganization the army says reflects improved electronic warfare capabilities. The source said:

At the beginning of his tenure as IDF chief of staff in 2015, Lt-Gen Gadi Eisenkot announced he would bring together the military’s cyber-units under one body, a command unit on par with the Ground Forces, Navy or Air Forces. The plan for the unified Cyber-Command was conceived under the belief that the cyber-front was a sufficiently independent area that it demanded its own consideration, as Eisenkot explained in 2015 in an unclassified document known as IDF Strategy that set out the army’s overall goals and methods to achieve them. However, after two years of discussion and work, the military has opted to scrap that proposal and instead keep the existing dynamic of having the military’s defensive capabilities remain in the army’s Computer Service Directorate, also known as the C4I Directorate, and keeping Unit 8200 inside Military Intelligence. Under the new cyber-plan, the role and methods of Unit 8200 will remain the same: collecting signal intelligence (SIGINT) and (some foreign sources claim) carrying out cyber-attacks. On the defensive side, however, the military will undergo a number of changes to boost the capabilities of the C4I Directorate, turning its cyber-defense unit into an “operational command,” with the authority to act and respond. Currently, the unit is only charged with building and maintaining the military’s online network. The army expects the improved cyber-defense unit to be up and running by September.

The officer did not specify who specifically threatens Israel on the cyber-front, but most experts consider Iran and Hezbollah to be Israel’s main foes in this realm, along with Hamas to a lesser extent. According to some reports in the Hebrew press, the proposal to integrate Unit 8200 into the Cyber-Command was opposed by senior Military Intelligence officers. The highly secretive elite 8200 unit, roughly equivalent to the NSA in Pindostan, is well regarded for its computer prowess and seen as a major incubator of Israel’s hi-tech start-up culture. The MI unit is believed to have collaborated with Pindostan to create the Stuxnet virus which hit Iranian nuclear facilities in 2010. The senior cyber-defense official did not discuss the specifics of why the plan was scrapped, but stressed that the C4I Directorate and Unit 8200 maintained an excellent relationship and were dependent on one another. The army first announced it was considering abandoning the planned unified Cyber-Command at the beginning of the year, but Sunday marked the first time the military presented the cyber-warfare reshuffle. The officer said:

Reorganizing the IDF is more like going into a jungle and trying to garden it, rather than writing a white paper where you draw from scratch. Before this plan, the C4I was concerned with the functioning of the military’s technology and only then with the operational side of things, but now that will be reversed. That’s a change of DNA, not just a change of words. While responsible for the protection of military systems, as well as some national infrastructure during emergencies, the C4I Directorate will also be charged with counterattacks and “active defense”, measures designed to deter attacks before they happen. Defense is not standing on the line and waiting. You’re responsible for beating. As part of the army’s multi-year Gideon Plan, which is meant to streamline the military and cut costs, the area of electronic warfare is meant to actually receive a boost in funding across the board for manpower, equipment and training. Every year, we try to bring more and more funds into cyber. However, the C4I’s cyber defense unit will be smaller than initially planned, owing to budget constraints. We wanted it to be bigger, but the money wasn’t there. Under the original plan, Brig-Gen Yaron Rosen was meant to head the Cyber-Command, but that position has now been cut, leaving the C4I Directorate with three brigadier-generals instead of four. The enhanced cyber-defense unit in C4I will be coordinated by a “Firewall Control” unit which will oversee the military’s cyber-defense efforts, as well as the cooperation with Military Intelligence. The general strategy for the cyber-defense unit will be to assign commanders a particular area of responsibility and allow them to determine the best way to protect it. These team leaders have already been chosen. The military’s cyber-defense program is primarily responsible for protecting the army’s own systems from attack. Civilian networks are under the purview of the National Cyber-Authority and the Shin Bet’s cyber-security unit. However, the specifics of which organization will be responsible for what in the case of emergency is currently being resolved in a proposed national law. If there is an attack on national infrastructure, the IDF will be there.

Israel was largely unaffected by the WannaCry ransomware cyber-attack that hit countries around the world over the weekend. Officials credited both the fact that the attack was unleashed on Saturday, when most systems in Israel were down for Shabbat, and the country’s advanced cyber-defense efforts. The specifics of who would coordinate an effort were Israel hit in a major nationwide attack are still being discussed in the Knesset. In Aug 2016, the Knesset proposed reforming the National Cyber Authority, which was designed to bring together country’s various cyber-defense groups under one umbrella. Last month, top members of Israel’s security establishment sent an angry letter to the prime minister warning against the establishment of the NCA, as it stood. A copy of the letter was then leaked to Channel 2 news. The senior officer said the issue had been “sensationalized.” He said:

It was a question of how the law gets made. I’m sure it will be resolved soon.

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