Op-ed: Discovery of sophisticated computer virus at hotels hosting Iran nuclear talks points to a new phenomenon embodying a new danger: Cyber technology makes it possible to not only spy and obtain information, but to also plant misleading information.

We have yet to digest the meaning of the reports that China allegedly broke into databases with information about millions of federal workers in the United States, and a new affair has already emerged in which Israel is accused of planting a sophisticated computer virus (called Duqu 2.0) in hotels which hosted the Iranian delegation for the nuclear talks with the US and Europe.

This time too, the report arrived from Eugene Kaspersky’s Moscow-based information security company. In his special art of publicity, he immediately caught the global media’s attention without explicitly accusing anyone of the attack (it was only the press which attributed it to Israel). One has to be amazed by his speculative skills. He says the virus attacked several million computers in the world, including the three mentioned hotels. Who can guarantee that those were the actual targets?

Even after the virus is discovered, it’s impossible to determine who sent it: It’s not written in Hebrew, Chinese or Russian, but in machine language. This is a unique phenomenon in the world of cyber, which is known as the attribution problem: Who can the attack be attributed to? As there is no way to determine that for certain, different speculations can be raised, such as: We suspect the Chinese (or Israel) because the virus is always sent during Beijing’s (or Tel Aviv’s) working hours. By the way, Tel Aviv’s working hours are similar to Moscow’s working hours, for example‚Ķ

A new danger: Mixing cyber warfare with the nuclear issue
A new danger: Mixing cyber warfare with the nuclear issue


Then why is the accusing finger being pointed at Israel? Because according to common sense, Israel is interested in knowing what the Iranians prepare in their closed hotel rooms before presenting their positions in the negotiating room. While this is definitely common sense, it also applies to the US itself and to a series of other countries which are interested in knowing how the Iranians prepare for the discussions. Including Russia, of course.

Israel is considered a cyber world power, but it’s not the only one. The list includes countries like Russia, the US and China. Recently published figures about the growth in Israel’s cyber security industry point to our special standing in the world in this field: In the past four years, since setting national policy and establishing the National Cyber Bureau in the Prime Minister’s Office, the number of companies engaging in cyber security in Israel has been doubled. Exports of products and services in this field have increased by more than 20% a year and are nearing a volume of about 10% of the global market. The number of exit plannings in this field has grown considerably (multiplied by four times in the past four years), etc.

That is the reason why the International Cybersecurity Conference, which will be held in Israel for the fifth time next week as part of the national Cyber Week, organized by the Blavatnik Interdisciplinary Cyber Research Center at Tel Aviv University with the support of the National Cyber Bureau, has become a center of attraction for all cyber experts in the world.

Kaspersky, by the way, will not attend the conference for the first time. Some link it to the dramatic announcement about the discovery of the new virus, but we should remember that he made similar announcements before the previous conferences as well (when the Duqu 1.0 and Flame viruses were making headlines). Someone has already asked, cynically, whether Kaspersky makes sure to “promote” the conference every year. The answer to this question can be found in the frequency of such events: There is hardly a week in which a new cyber affair is not exposed.

In any event, the recent incident points to a new phenomenon which embodies a new danger: Mixing cyber warfare with the nuclear issue. Cyber technology makes it possible not only to spy and obtain information, but also to plant misleading information. That’s why next week’s cyber events will begin with a war game discussing such a scenario.

Major-General (res.) Prof. Isaac Ben-Israel is the chairman of the Israel Space Agency and head of the Interdisciplinary Cyber Research Center at Tel Aviv University.

As reported by Ynetnews