F ifty years ago, long before the personal computer became a household staple, Rand Corporation analyst Willis Ware conveyed a dire warning at a three-day computer conference in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

“Computer networks will inevitably go international. Then what?” Ware asked. “A foreign industry might find it advantageous to tap the traffic of US companies operating an international — and presumably private — computer network. Might it be that for reasons of national interest we will someday find the professional effort of a foreign government focused on the privacy-protecting measures of a computer network?”

It was elegant phrasing describing what we know today as a cyber attack by an enemy government or lawless hackers. Ware’s presentation was just one of hundreds of recently declassified documents published last week by the National Security Archive, a project of George Washington University, following a 2016 request through the Freedom of Information Act.

His paper was groundbreaking, said Dr. Jeffrey Richelson, a senior fellow at the archive, who said Ware was the first to predict many of the cyber dilemmas faced by policy makers today.

These were dilemmas the State of Israel had to face in real time toward the end of April, when it found itself on the receiving end of a massive, coordinated cyber espionage campaign that targeted an estimated 120 to 250 major Israeli institutions. The National Cyber Bureau, formed by the Israeli government six years ago to play both defense and offense in cyberspace, accused a group of Iranian hackers known as OilRig of perpetrating the attacks.

The Knesset’s Science and Technology Committee, whose chairman is Rabbi Uri Maklev (United Torah Judaism), last week discussed ways of beefing up Israel’s computer security in light of that report.

“The State of Israel finds itself locked in a precarious war of the minds,” Rabbi Maklev said. “We must remain on high alert, because today’s defensive measures may be obsolete in another two weeks.”

The OilRig group attacked critical infrastructure, such as the Israel Electric Corporation, Israel’s only electric utility; high-tech companies; medical organizations; and educational institutions. The hackers used e-mail accounts hacked from Ben-Gurion University, a leader in Israeli cybersecurity. They sent e-mails with Word attachments, with tantalizing subject lines including “opportunity to receive research funding.” As soon as the overeager recipient opened the attachment, the virus infected the computer, enabling the hackers to take over by remote control.

Kelly Jackson Higgins, executive editor of Dark Reading, an online publication for the information security community, wrote that the hackers caught the victims during what’s called a “patching window,” or the gap between when Microsoft issues a security update and organizations actually roll out a patch to defend their networks.

Rabbi Maklev says his committee is considering legislation that would require any private company or government agency that maintains a large database of personal or commercial information to upgrade its cybersecurity to standards set by the National Cyber Bureau.

Some companies might balk at the cost, while other critics say such a measure would be unenforceable, but Rabbi Maklev is undeterred. “We expect requests to roll in for this type of protection,” he said. “We also plan to institute employment training programs in the field to attract workers, including from the chareidi public, to cope with cyber threats.”

The OilRig attacks garnered publicity, but Rabbi Maklev said the country is constantly defending itself against other unpublicized attacks. While military installations and essential infrastructure are targeted most often by foreign governments, he said the government is just as concerned about protecting private citizens and their financial and personal information.

Asked how he rates Israel’s level of preparedness, Maklev replied that though the state has a reputation for high-tech prowess, officials should never become overconfident.

“We were able to counter these recent attacks with a quality response,” he said. “Just as in the IDF, we can never say kochi v’otzem yadi. We also have to pray that our systems will operate successfully, and that we will always be able to come up with the right response.” (Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 659)