Saturday, 5 January 2013

"Who will guard the guards?"

A nationwide programme aimed at teaching students aged between 16 and 18 how to become "cyberattack interceptors" has been launched in Israel.

Announcing the launch of the three-year-long Magshimim Le'umit programme at Ashkelon Academic College, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remarked that it was a big step toward creating a "digital Iron Dome", referring to the nation's highly effective missile defence system.

"Israel's vital systems are under attack from Iran and other elements," he said at a conference. "This will only increase as we enter the digital age. We are bolstering our ability to deal with these threats via the Israel National Cyber Bureau that we established.

"We are one of the world's leaders in the field of cybernetics, and we must maintain this position. Therefore, we will continue to cultivate the generation of the future."

Israel was famously revealed as the aggressor in its own cyberwar against Iran last year when New York Times correspondent David Sanger outed the nation, along with the US, as being behind the Stuxnet virus. It was not the first cyber attack, and it certainly won't be the last. As the world continues to urge Israel to stray away from any kind of open warfare with Iran, it's likely any future combat will take place in the virtual space.

Although Israel is already in a good position to lead that combat, a position no doubt to be strengthened by the new programme as younger generations take the lead, its attempts at using social networking to support foreign policy appear to be failing, according to a study released this week.

The report, by Tomer Simon and Erez Cohen of Israel's Ben-Gurion University, affirms that not only did the IDF and Hamas violate both Facebook and Twitter's terms "by publishing posts and tweets that called for violence and escalation" during the November 2012 conflict, the IDF's attempts were no match for those of Twitter-savvy Hamas representatives.

"Similar to the war in the battlefront, or the fight to defend the home front, there is now an additional and new battle for the 'social media front'," Simon told, "the war for information, ideas and legitimacy.

"Operation Pillar of Defense represented a conceptual change whereby, for the first time, the army used social networks for 'war' purposes: psychological warfare and propaganda, in an attempt to control the way the war was depicted and justify it to the world... The IDF used social media in order to frame the conflict and try to control its narrative. We have learned in recent years that items that are successful on the social media front receive air-time on the traditional media as well."

Simon and Cohen focused largely on the two bodies' use of Twitter, and logged every mention, retweet and reaction. IDF's tweets, he found, were far more often under attack than Hamas's. This may have something to do with the fact that the IDF did not engage the Twitterverse and merely sent out tweets (unlike Hamas, which encouraged conversation with its activity). This was probably down to a sheer lack of manpower, says Simon: "On the second day of the operation the IDF Spokesperson received almost 170,000 replies".

It may also have something to do with the fact that the IDF began its social media discourse that November by publishing a video of the killing of Hamas military leader Ahmed al-Jabari on YouTube, accompanied by a tweeted threat: "We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead". It was a bold and aggressive stance to take from the off, to paste the ugly face of war in black and white all across the internet, and the careful precision of the attack (presumably what the IDF wanted to publicise) was probably lost on much of the public viewing it outside of Israel. More

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