Page last updated at 09:07 GMT, Monday, 15 June 2009 10:07 UK

Israel and foes in internet war

By Ahmad Budeiri
BBC Arabic, Jerusalem

Israeli intelligence sees using Facebook as a potential threat to security

The battlefield in the Middle East may be changing. Israeli intelligence agencies have warned citizens of the risks in using social networking sites such as Facebook.

They say that the internet is a war zone between Israel and its enemies including Hamas, Hezbollah and Iranian groups.

According to the Israeli intelligence analyst, Dr Ronen Bergman, Israel's concerns are twofold: first, that Israeli internet sites might be breached and sabotaged; second, that Israeli soldiers might be enticed to give away secrets.

Israeli intelligence officials are worried that Israelis risk leaking sensitive information or may even be kidnapped if they speak too openly with Palestinians and Lebanese online.

They fear that Israelis might be encouraged to leave Israel to meet someone they meet in the virtual world of Facebook and then be kidnapped in the hope that they can be exchanged for some of the thousands of Palestinians held in Israeli jails.

Many national governments issue advice to their citizens about using the internet safely. But Israeli intelligence tips are more like strict orders.

National service is an obligation of Israeli citizens and many have knowledge of information which is secret or at least highly sensitive.

Dr Ronen Bergman says that Hamas claims that it got important information via the internet about intelligence networks and spies and also about some of the elite units in the Israeli army.

Of particular concern are social networking sites such as Facebook.

The fear is that people who use Facebook may let their guard down in a way they would never do if they were speaking face-to-face.

Virtual Training Camps

But Israel cannot just rely on giving advice.

A battle is being fought day and night by trained "soldiers" fighting an enemy they cannot see.

Private companies are involved in this war to provide protection for government and financial websites which are constantly under attack and sometimes breached.

Safenet Aladin was formed in the United States 26 years ago and now has branches in over 100 countries

It has a specially designed laboratory in Israel to conduct experiments and simulate electronic attacks.

The laboratory is a kind of virtual training camp where engineers are taught how to use the most sophisticated programs to repulse electronic invasions.

The manager of security technology at the Israeli branch of the company, Ofer Alzam, told BBC Arabic Radio about the laboratory and how the battle is fought on the internet.

One of the tools they use in the battle is an electronic key which contains encrypted data and is provided to a number of clients to help protect vital secret information.

The key not only protects secret information but also foresees computer threats.

"First, we have to foresee the threat. If we can anticipate it we can normally deal with it. In one or two percent of cases however, we have to minimise the threat window to provide protection and security against new threats, particularly for major internet providers" says Mr Alzam.

Bullet proof

The most sensitive Israeli strategic sites are those housing electronic databases.

The companies that provide these for individuals, the government and private companies pride themselves on the level of security they provide their clients.

Saji Maysar, the marketing manager of on such internet security company, Samial, took me to a room secured by strong doors and bullet-proof glass.

Over the loud hum of the computer servers housed there he said that if there was ever a successful attack on this room it would be the equivalent of a strike on a key military base.

He said the room held sensitive information which not only had to be protected against cyber-attack but also against physical attack by those who wanted to harm Israel and its citizens.

The Israeli army itself has a division trained to fight cyber warfare to protect military secrets.

When intelligence officers resign from the army, some take their knowledge to one of the prestigious computer companies.

Many analysts now believe that the Israeli capability in this cyber war may now be as strong as more traditional Israeli defences built up over the past half-century.

It is difficult to judge who is winning this war, or sometimes to even find out where the battles are being fought.

But Israel's considerable intelligence resources need to be constantly on full alert to prevent a successful attack by nimble enemies who are becoming increasingly astute in fighting a virtual war from their laptops.

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