HotSpots H2O: Major Cyberattack on Israeli Water Systems Foreshadows Future Dangers to Infrastructure

Tel Aviv, Israel. Photo © J. Carl Ganter/Circle of Blue

Israel thwarted a major cyberattack on its water systems last month, the country’s national cyber chief Yigal Unna confirmed last week. The attack, which occurred in April, would have allowed chlorine and other chemicals to mix into the country’s water supplies in unsafe proportions. 

“If the bad guys had succeeded in their plot, we would now be facing, in the middle of the corona crisis, very big damage to the civilian population and a lack of water and even worse than that,” Unna explained in a video address to the CybertechLive Asia conference. Israeli’s National Cyber Directorate released a brief statement when the attack was detected, but last week’s announcement was the first official discussion of the event. 

Unna described the attack against the country’s water systems as “synchronized and organized,” and warned the outcome could have been disastrous if Israeli officials had not detected the attack immediately. 

The attack has been widely ascribed to Iran, although Unna did not address these speculations directly. On May 9, however, Israel launched a cyberattack that successfully disrupted operations at a major port in Iran. Intelligence experts have implied that this was an act of retaliation and a warning not to disrupt Israeli infrastructure. 

“The attack displayed the cyber ability of a world power. It appears that this was a clear Israeli message to Iran, don’t dare to touch civilian systems, the water and electricity systems in Israel, which were attacked this past month. You, the Iranians, are more vulnerable than we are,” Amos Yadlin, the former head of Israeli military intelligence, said in a radio interview

Israel hopes the counterstrike against Iran’s port will put an end to the current back-and-forth of cyberattacks, according to an intelligence official. Other intelligence, however, indicates that Iran will likely strike again. 

The cyber sparring is a sign of things to come, Unna warned. 

“Cyber winter is coming and coming even faster than I suspected,” he said. “We are just seeing the beginning.”

Past Circle of Blue coverage on cyberattacks: Water Sector Prepares For Cyberattacks.

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