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A fresh cyberwar front is hitting the Middle East as both Israel and Turkey ramp up their military capabilities in dealing with hacker attacks and monitoring social media.
The Israeli military announced this week that they have benchmarked approximately $1.6 million to recruit 120 “new media fighters.” This news was released at the just-completed Herzliya Conference, an annual get-together of prominent international thinkers--primarily Israeli and American--that this year included Israeli President Shimon Peres, former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, Czech Defense Minister Alexandr Vondra, Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal, former CIA director R. James Woolsey, Italian Finance Minister Giullo Tremonti, and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, which attended a panel entitled "New Media as a Strategic Weapon," claims that Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) spokesperson Brig. Gen. Avi Benayahu cited the IDF's plans to recruit a core of "new media fighters" who are "little hackers who were born and raised online":
"We screen them with special care and train them to serve the state," the spokesman told the panel, which was part of the Herzliya Conference.
He added that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was personally supporting the venture and that he had supplied a budget of NIS 6 million ($1.63 million) for the enlistment of 120 soldiers.
But will the new cybersoldiers be "little hackers" or merely social media experts? Israeli military press representative Rotem Caro Weizman is positioning the hiring blitz as a public diplomacy move:
According to Brig. Gen. Benayahu, the unit will receive soldiers knowledgeable in the field who could simultaneously help speak on behalf of Israel (in what’s called Israeli hasbara).[sic]
“The battlefield has changed significantly. It is now set in urban fronts, the battles fought both in areas full of civilians where civilians are used as human shields and using technological changes and new media,” said Brig. Gen. Benayahu.
According to the IDF Spokesperson, “battalion commanders and company commanders need to understand international law and new media. They don’t know if the person in front of them or on the second floor above them is a soldier, a civilian or a new media journalist, who documents everything then uploads everything online. Not long ago we saw how a 3.5 generation camera [sic] found its way into Ahmadinejad’s government where the CIA could not.”
The IDF, which already maintains active Twitter and YouTube presences, is known to monitor social media. Fast Company has written previously about the Israeli military's use of Facebook to snare suspected draft dodgers.
Israel is widely suspected of playing a role in Stuxnet, the most effective cyberattack in known history. The Stuxnet worm caused considerable damage to Iran's nuclear efforts and the Israeli government has neither confirmed nor denied any involvement.
Meanwhile, Israel's northern neighbors are stepping up their cyberwar preparations. Turkey just completed a large-scale cyberattack drill that involved multiple government agencies. According to Turkish newspaper Today's Zaman:
The drill aims to prepare Turkey against the threat of cyber attacks and discover the institutions’ capabilities in dealing with attacks on their information systems. The institutions to take part in the drill include the Justice Ministry, the Prime Ministry, the National Police Department, and the General Staff. Cyber warfare is defined as organized attacks on the information and communication systems of a country with economic, political, or military motives. Among the goals of a cyber war are taking hold of the web sites of the state or private institutions, creating propaganda on the Internet and interfering in an institution’s critical systems, including the energy, communication, finance, and security infrastructure.
Israel and Turkey's concerns may be well founded. Just this week, a cyberattack on British government offices that used White House email addresses was traced to China.
[Photo of IDF Spokesperson Avi Benayahu via IDF Spokesperson's Office]