Entries Tagged "Israel"

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Security Effectiveness of the Israeli West Bank Barrier

Interesting analysis:

Abstract: Objectives — Informed by situational crime prevention (SCP) this study evaluates the effectiveness of the “West Bank Barrier” that the Israeli government began to construct in 2002 in order to prevent suicide bombing attacks.

Methods — Drawing on crime wave models of past SCP research, the study uses a time series of terrorist attacks and fatalities and their location in respect to the Barrier, which was constructed in different sections over different periods of time, between 1999 and 2011.

Results — The Barrier together with associated security activities was effective in preventing suicide bombings and other attacks and fatalities with little if any apparent displacement. Changes in terrorist behavior likely resulted from the construction of the Barrier, not from other external factors or events.

Conclusions — In some locations, terrorists adapted to changed circumstances by committing more opportunistic attacks that require less planning. Fatalities and attacks were also reduced on the Palestinian side of the Barrier, producing an expected “diffusion of benefits” though the amount of reduction was considerably more than in past SCP studies. The defensive roles of the Barrier and offensive opportunities it presents, are identified as possible explanations. The study highlights the importance of SCP in crime and counter-terrorism policy.

Unfortunately, the whole paper is behind a paywall.

Note: This is not a political analysis of the net positive and negative effects of the wall, just a security analysis. Of course any full analysis needs to take the geopolitics into account. The comment section is not the place for this broader discussion.

Posted on July 14, 2016 at 5:58 AMView Comments

NSA Spies on Israeli Prime Minister

The Wall Street Journal has a story that the NSA spied on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli government officials, and incidentally collected conversations between US citizens — including lawmakers — and those officials.

US lawmakers who are usually completely fine with NSA surveillance are aghast at this behavior, as both Glenn Greenwald and Trevor Timm explain. Greenwald:

So now, with yesterday’s WSJ report, we witness the tawdry spectacle of large numbers of people who for years were fine with, responsible for, and even giddy about NSA mass surveillance suddenly objecting. Now they’ve learned that they themselves, or the officials of the foreign country they most love, have been caught up in this surveillance dragnet, and they can hardly contain their indignation. Overnight, privacy is of the highest value because now it’s their privacy, rather than just yours, that is invaded.

This reminds me of the 2013 story that the NSA eavesdropped on the cell phone of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Back then, I wrote:

Spying on foreign governments is what the NSA is supposed to do. Much more problematic, and dangerous, is that the NSA is spying on entire populations.

Greenwald said the same thing:

I’ve always argued that on the spectrum of spying stories, revelations about targeting foreign leaders is the least important, since that is the most justifiable type of espionage. Whether the U.S. should be surveilling the private conversations of officials of allied democracies is certainly worth debating, but, as I argued in my 2014 book, those “revelations … are less significant than the agency’s warrantless mass surveillance of whole populations” since “countries have spied on heads of state for centuries, including allies.”

And that’s the key point. I am less concerned about Angela Merkel than the other 82 million Germans that are being spied on, and I am less concerned about Benjamin Netanyahu than I am about the other 8 million people living in that country.

Over on Lawfare, Ben Wittes agrees:

There is absolutely nothing surprising about NSA’s activities here — or about the administration’s activities. There is no reason to expect illegality or impropriety. In fact, the remarkable aspect of this story is how constrained both the administration’s and the agency’s behavior appears to have been by rules and norms in exactly the fashion one would hope to see.


So let’s boil this down to brass tacks: NSA spied on a foreign leader at a time when his country had a major public foreign policy showdown with the President of the United States over a sharp differences between the two countries over Iran’s nuclearization — indeed, at a time when the US believed that leader was contemplating military action without advance notice to the United States. In the course of this surveillance, NSA incidentally collected communications involving members of Congress, who were being heavily lobbied by the Israeli government and Netanyahu personally. There is no indication that the members of Congress were targeted for collection. Moreover, there’s no indication that the rules that govern incidental collection involving members of Congress were not followed. The White House, for its part, appears to have taken a hands-off approach, directing NSA to follow its own policies about what to report, even on a sensitive matter involving delicate negotiations in a tense period with an ally.

The words that really matter are “incidental collection.” I have no doubt that the NSA followed its own rules in that regard. The discussion we need to have is about whether those rules are the correct ones. Section 702 incidental collection is a huge loophole that allows the NSA to collect information on millions of innocent Americans.

Greenwald again:

This claim of “incidental collection” has always been deceitful, designed to mask the fact that the NSA does indeed frequently spy on the conversations of American citizens without warrants of any kind. Indeed, as I detailed here, the 2008 FISA law enacted by Congress had as one of its principal, explicit purposes allowing the NSA to eavesdrop on Americans’ conversations without warrants of any kind. “The principal purpose of the 2008 law was to make it possible for the government to collect Americans’ international communications — and to collect those communications without reference to whether any party to those communications was doing anything illegal,” the ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer said. “And a lot of the government’s advocacy is meant to obscure this fact, but it’s a crucial one: The government doesn’t need to ‘target’ Americans in order to collect huge volumes of their communications.”

If you’re a member of Congress, there are special rules that the NSA has to follow if you’re incidentally spied on:

Special safeguards for lawmakers, dubbed the “Gates Rule,” were put in place starting in the 1990s. Robert Gates, who headed the Central Intelligence Agency from 1991 to 1993, and later went on to be President Barack Obama’s Defense Secretary, required intelligence agencies to notify the leaders of the congressional intelligence committees whenever a lawmaker’s identity was revealed to an executive branch official.

If you’re a regular American citizen, don’t expect any such notification. Your information can be collected, searched, and then saved for later searching, without a warrant. And if you’re a common German, Israeli, or any other countries’ citizen, you have even fewer rights.

In 2014, I argued that we need to separate the NSA’s espionage mission against target agents for a foreign power from any broad surveillance of Americans. I still believe that. But more urgently, we need to reform Section 702 when it comes up for reauthorization in 2017.

EDITED TO ADD: A good article on the topic. And Marcy Wheeler’s interesting take.

Posted on January 5, 2016 at 6:36 AMView Comments

How Israel Regulates Encryption

Interesting essay about how Israel regulates encryption:

…the Israeli encryption control mechanisms operate without directly legislating any form of encryption-key depositories, built-in back or front door access points, or other similar requirements. Instead, Israel’s system emphasizes smooth initial licensing processes and cultivates government-private sector collaboration. These processes help ensure that Israeli authorities are apprised of the latest encryption and cyber developments and position the government to engage effectively with the private sector when national security risks are identified.

Basically, it looks like secret agreements made in smoke-filled rooms, very discreet with no oversight or accountability. The fact that pretty much everyone in IT security has served in an offensive cybersecurity capacity for the Israeli army helps. As does the fact that the country is so small, making informal deal-making manageable. It doesn’t scale.

Why is this important?

…companies in Israel, a country comprising less than 0.11% of the world’s population, are estimated to have sold 10% ($6 billion out of $60 billion) of global encryption and cyber technologies for 2014.

Posted on December 8, 2015 at 7:25 AMView Comments

Attributing the Sony Attack

No one has admitted taking down North Korea’s Internet. It could have been an act of retaliation by the US government, but it could just as well have been an ordinary DDoS attack. The follow-on attack against Sony PlayStation definitely seems to be the work of hackers unaffiliated with a government.

Not knowing who did what isn’t new. It’s called the “attribution problem,” and it plagues Internet security. But as governments increasingly get involved in cyberspace attacks, it has policy implications as well. Last year, I wrote:

Ordinarily, you could determine who the attacker was by the weaponry. When you saw a tank driving down your street, you knew the military was involved because only the military could afford tanks. Cyberspace is different. In cyberspace, technology is broadly spreading its capability, and everyone is using the same weaponry: hackers, criminals, politically motivated hacktivists, national spies, militaries, even the potential cyberterrorist. They are all exploiting the same vulnerabilities, using the same sort of hacking tools, engaging in the same attack tactics, and leaving the same traces behind. They all eavesdrop or steal data. They all engage in denial-of-service attacks. They all probe cyberdefences and do their best to cover their tracks.

Despite this, knowing the attacker is vitally important. As members of society, we have several different types of organizations that can defend us from an attack. We can call the police or the military. We can call on our national anti-terrorist agency and our corporate lawyers. Or we can defend ourselves with a variety of commercial products and services. Depending on the situation, all of these are reasonable choices.

The legal regime in which any defense operates depends on two things: who is attacking you and why. Unfortunately, when you are being attacked in cyberspace, the two things you often do not know are who is attacking you and why. It is not that everything can be defined as cyberwar; it is that we are increasingly seeing warlike tactics used in broader cyberconflicts. This makes defence and national cyberdefence policy difficult.

In 2007, the Israeli Air Force bombed and destroyed the al-Kibar nuclear facility in Syria. The Syrian government immediately knew who did it, because airplanes are hard to disguise. In 2010, the US and Israel jointly damaged Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility. But this time they used a cyberweapon, Stuxnet, and no one knew who did it until details were leaked years later. China routinely denies its cyberespionage activities. And a 2009 cyberattack against the United States and South Korea was blamed on North Korea even though it may have originated from either London or Miami.

When it’s possible to identify the origins of cyberattacks­ — like forensic experts were able to do with many of the Chinese attacks against US networks­ — it’s as a result of months of detailed analysis and investigation. That kind of time frame doesn’t help at the moment of attack, when you have to decide within milliseconds how your network is going to react and within days how your country is going to react. This, in part, explains the relative disarray within the Obama administration over what to do about North Korea. Officials in the US government and international institutions simply don’t have the legal or even the conceptual framework to deal with these types of scenarios.

The blurring of lines between individual actors and national governments has been happening more and more in cyberspace. What has been called the first cyberwar, Russia vs. Estonia in 2007, was partly the work of a 20-year-old ethnic Russian living in Tallinn, and partly the work of a pro-Kremlin youth group associated with the Russian government. Many of the Chinese hackers targeting Western networks seem to be unaffiliated with the Chinese government. And in 2011, the hacker group Anonymous threatened NATO.

It’s a strange future we live in when we can’t tell the difference between random hackers and major governments, or when those same random hackers can credibly threaten international military organizations.

This is why people around the world should care about the Sony hack. In this future, we’re going to see an even greater blurring of traditional lines between police, military, and private actions as technology broadly distributes attack capabilities across a variety of actors. This attribution difficulty is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future.

If North Korea is responsible for the cyberattack, how is the situation different than a North Korean agent breaking into Sony’s office, photocopying a lot of papers, and making them available to the public? Is Chinese corporate espionage a problem for governments to solve, or should we let corporations defend themselves? Should the National Security Agency defend US corporate networks, or only US military networks? How much should we allow organizations like the NSA to insist that we trust them without proof when they claim to have classified evidence that they don’t want to disclose? How should we react to one government imposing sanctions on another based on this secret evidence? More importantly, when we don’t know who is launching an attack or why, who is in charge of the response and under what legal system should those in charge operate?

We need to figure all of this out. We need national guidelines to determine when the military should get involved and when it’s a police matter, as well as what sorts of proportional responses are available in each instance. We need international agreements defining what counts as cyberwar and what does not. And, most of all right now, we need to tone down all the cyberwar rhetoric. Breaking into the offices of a company and photocopying their paperwork is not an act of war, no matter who did it. Neither is doing the same thing over the Internet. Let’s save the big words for when it matters.

This essay previously appeared on TheAtlantic.com.

Jack Goldsmith responded to this essay.

Posted on January 7, 2015 at 11:16 AMView Comments

Israel's Counter-Cyberterrorism Unit

You’d think the country would already have one of these:

Israel is mulling the creation of a counter-cyberterrorism unit designed to safeguard both government agencies and core private sector firms against hacking attacks.

The proposed unit would supplement the efforts of Mossad and other agencies in fighting cyberespionage and denial of service attacks.

Posted on April 12, 2011 at 2:06 PMView Comments

More Stuxnet News

This long New York Times article includes some interesting revelations. The article claims that Stuxnet was a joint Israeli-American project, and that its effectiveness was tested on live equipment: “Behind Dimona’s barbed wire, the experts say, Israel has spun nuclear centrifuges virtually identical to Iran’s at Natanz, where Iranian scientists are struggling to enrich uranium.”

The worm itself now appears to have included two major components. One was designed to send Iran’s nuclear centrifuges spinning wildly out of control. Another seems right out of the movies: The computer program also secretly recorded what normal operations at the nuclear plant looked like, then played those readings back to plant operators, like a pre-recorded security tape in a bank heist, so that it would appear that everything was operating normally while the centrifuges were actually tearing themselves apart.

My two previous Stuxnet posts. And an alternate theory: The Chinese did it.

EDITED TO ADD (2/12): More opinions on Stuxnet.

Posted on January 17, 2011 at 12:31 PMView Comments

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.