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The reality of cyber-war hits home: Israeli road system taken down by Trojan

One of Israel's major infrastructure hubs was shut down by a cyber-attack in September, according to inside sources.

The disclosure comes after the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) Chief of General Staff, Lieutenant General Binyamin Gantz named computer sabotage as one of the primary concerns facing Israel's defence forces in the future.

Now we know why: according to insider reports, a road system known as the Carmel Tunnels was taken out of action in early September by a cyber-attack. The tunnels are a major part of transport infrastructure in Haifa, Israel's third-largest city.

The tunnels are designed to reduce congestion in the Mediterranean seaport, and bore through the Carmel Mountains that thread across Haifa from South to North.

A form of Trojan malware reportedly infected the computer system controlling access to the tunnels and took down security cameras for a significant period of time, causing authorities to close the roads as a precaution.

The first attack on 8 September shut the thoroughfare for 20 minutes and the next day another attack closed the roadway for a further eight hours, causing enormous congestion throughout the city and costing hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of damage.

Investigators apparently believe that the attack was the work of an unsophisticated hacktivist group, rather than agents funded by a foreign government, such as Iran. In 2011, the Israeli government was the target of attacks by the loosely-organised hacker collective Anonymous. In January of last yea, pro-Palestinian hackers also managed to disrupt the day-to-day services of the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, the national airline El Al, as well as multiple Israeli banks.

The anonymous insider said that Israel's National Cyber Bureau, a classified body formed two years ago and reporting directly to the prime minister, was aware of the incident but the agency has declined to comment.

Carmelton, the Israeli company that operates the tunnels, has blamed a "communication glitch" for the lapse in normal operations.

In his speech on 8 October, Lieutenant General Gantz spoke of the dangers of "a cyber-attack on a website providing daily services to Israel," and painted a chilling scenario of the future of warfare online.

"Traffic lights could cease to work," he said, "or banks could be taken out of action."

The threat of cyber warfare is beginning to be a major concern for governments around the world. The networks of US energy companies were attacked earlier this year. Twice. It was also revealed in October that Iranian hackers managed to infiltrate the Navy and Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI) although apparently no sensitive information was lost.

The British government has been taking the threat just as seriously. The UK recently announced the forming of a Joint Cyber Reserve, which could even recruit convicted hackers to fight the threat of state-funded cyber-terrorism.

Image: Flickr (david55king)