Why computer hacking is scarier in Israel than in the US

Let’s talk about computer culture for a second – not that I’m an expert – but those of us who came of age in the US appreciate our downloadable, open-source lives. The geniuses (non-sarcastically) who created this infrastructure did it in the face of government policies that were desperately trying to hold onto the antiquated ideas of ownership of thought and inspiration, etc. No wonder there is a certain and particular dislike for government in these circles.

Now, Israel is a different story. It is a country with an incredible high-tech industry, but whose (almost) entire workforce served in the Army. And most of the Army isn’t combat units – most of it is desk jobs. And many of those are in intelligence units. In fact, the majority of Israelis in their 20s I know personally were in these units.

Intelligence in this situation doesn’t mean they just sit there and listen to tapped phone lines. These soldiers went into these units and came out the other end with incredible knowledge of computers, systems, networks, what have you. I imagine it to be much like in the TV shows and movies about the incredible cyber-power of the CIA (which probably doesn’t exist) and Mossad (which unquestionably does).

Of course, naïve as I am, I had no idea what they were capable of until I read this. (Remember, this is speculation – but it all makes sense.)

Iran’s nuclear reactor was hacked. Not a Mugatu face, countdown, and things go black on a giant screen hack. No, it was a multi-pronged, deliberate, undetectable, slow-moving hack. “Groundbreaking.”

“Researchers studying the worm all agree that Stuxnet was built by a very sophisticated and capable attacker — possibly a nation state — and it was designed to destroy something big…some of the researchers who know Stuxnet best say that it may have been built to sabotage Iran’s nukes.”

So, what nation-states do we know who might have a vested interest in targeting Bushehr, and the capability to do so? Not Russia, since they support it. Even the US government, who would probably be interested in a nuke-free Iran, likely doesn’t have the tech capacity to create a virus of this magnitude (see prior statements on the anti-government culture in the American techie world). So that leaves us with Israel – a huge workforce specifically dedicated to being really really really good at computers and intelligence-gathering.

I’m not sure how I feel about government with this kind of power – I’ve taken for granted the de facto separation of government and cyber-space in the US, but that so obviously doesn’t exist here. Really interesting, and really scary. It’s a little mind-boggling to think friends of mine almost certainly participated in developing this program, and have the knowledge and capability to carry this out.

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One thought on “Why computer hacking is scarier in Israel than in the US

  1. ‘Once inside the system it uses the default passwords to commandeer the software.[2] Siemens however advises against changing the default passwords because it “could impact plant operations”.’ — Wikipedia

    WOW.

    But it sounds like the impressive part of the worm is knowledge of industry not knowledge of tech. The best evidence that it’s a government is that zero-day Windows exploits are worth like millions and millions of dollars, so whoever did this was not interested in profit.

    The main thing I don’t get is why in the world would you plug your nuclear reactor into the internet? Homer is already distracted enough by donuts.

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