Israel National Cyber Directorate head Yigal Unna warned on Tuesday that his agency has noted a significant increase in cyber attacks against medical facilities since the global coronavirus pandemic hit the country in mid-March.

Speaking at an online InnoTech-iHLS conference, Unna said that the increase in internet use since the pandemic began due to most companies shifting to remote offices, alongside the increase in the consumption of online services over coronavirus-imposed lockdowns, has resulted in the expansion of the potential cyber-attack sphere.

“The more we need it [the Internet], the greater the scope for attacks, and with it come threats and abuse by hostile elements,” he said.

As for who may be instigating these attacks, Unna noted that “the coronavirus created a reality where young people have stopped studying—high school students and students from all over the world, with brilliant minds—and they have free time and access to the internet, so they’ve discovered hacking. Even if they represent a very small percentage, we’re still talking about millions of youth now dedicated to this. They hack and cause damage and they don’t care if it’s a hospital or other humanitarian targets.”

Asked what Israel should do, Unna said that the state is investing increasing resources in this field.

“We are working harder than ever before to minimize threats, not only in critical infrastructure but throughout Israeli cyberspace. We are campaigning to encourage awareness and take precautionary measures, and we are taking counter-hacking measures to address loopholes and vulnerabilities, to address them before hostile elements can find them,” he said.

Such efforts, he noted, are something of a mind game.

“Take chess and every other strategic game and put them on steroids. There are loopholes everywhere and we have to be smarter and faster to make Israel safer,” he said.

According to Unna, the National Cyber Directorate is working closely with the Israeli cyber industry.

“We have programs under which we allow them [young startup entrepreneurs] to try out their technology. Israel is faster and more powerful because of its excellent human resources, and the government’s task is to pave the way for the industry,” he said.

However, he added, “we don’t have many resources. Our natural resource is gumption, not fear of failure—that’s critical in cyber. On the one hand, someone is trying to find the loopholes and on the other hand, you have to be one step ahead and close them. In Israel, we are born to face this challenge. Cyber is an opportunity for Israel to excel.”

As technology advances, can we feel safer? Unna said he has no good news on that front.

“Things are getting worse because we are increasingly dependent on technology,” he said. “The more advanced we get, the greater the challenges and vulnerabilities become. We need to run faster just to stand in place.”

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

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