ISRAEL – As millions of people around the world tuned into this year’s Eurovision Song Contest final in Tel Aviv, little did they know they were within one second of witnessing a grim cyber attack. Foreign hackers infiltrated the system broadcasting the event globally online and tried to insert a disturbing video into the live feed. Yigal Unna, Director General of the Israeli National Cyber Directorate, told Nine News the attack was stopped in the nick of time. “It was about as close as you can get without it going to air,” he said. He described the video as “an ugly one”. Nine News has learned it was terror footage.
Speaking with Nine News during Cyber Week at Tel Aviv University, Mr Unna said the Eurovision attacks were examples of emerging threats at large-scale events.
“Mega events attract a lot of attention from all over the world and people want to abuse this attention,” he said. “And the threats coming from cyberspace are getting more severe as we speak”.
He said organisers needed to take cybersecurity risks into account when designing events, and a cyber response team should be physically present at the venue to deal with emergencies.
Nine News has confirmed the Australian government includes cybersecurity precautions when planning large events, such as the G20 Summit in Brisbane and the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.
A spokesperson from the government’s top cyber security agency, the Australian Cyber Security Centre, said they were “acutely aware that large-scale events are potential targets for malicious cyber actors”.
“We provide trusted advice and assistance to governments and businesses, including to the organisers of large scale events,” the spokesperson said. “Our level of support varies according to the size of the event and potential impacts of the malicious activity.”
While the ACSC would not provide details of security operations in Australia, leading international cybersecurity experts say cyber threats should be taken as seriously as physical threats. Rami Frati, former head of the Civilian Division of the Israel National Cyber Bureau, said while he believed the Eurovision attacks were a case of “psychological warfare”, some cyber attacks had the potential to cause serious physical or financial harm.
“I don’t care if someone is going to attack Israel via computer, via hacking, or via a missile that somebody launched,” he said. “We take seriously every threat in the country.”
Professor Isaac Ben-Israel, Director of the Blavatnik Interdisciplinary Cyber Research Center at Tel Aviv University, said cyber attacks caused ‘hundreds of trillions of US dollars’ worth of financial damage each year. As the architect of Israel’s national cybersecurity initiative and founder of its National Cyber Bureau in the Prime Minister’s
Office, Professor Ben-Israel is credited with transforming Israel into a world leader in cybersecurity. He told Nine News that foreign governments, including Australia, needed to invest more in boosting their cyber workforce in order to better protect their countries from attacks.
With Australia’s cyber workforce facing a serious manpower shortage, business leaders have called for greater investment in the sector. Trans-Tasman Business Circle Chief Executive Tanya Oziel, who was in Tel Aviv for Cyber Week, said a strong cybersecurity workforce was “as important as having a fully charged army and navy and airforce.”
“Cyber is the fourth frontier, it shouldn’t be looked at just as a technology problem, it really is a security issue and we need people to drive that,” she said.