‘Mess with Israel, you’ll pay a price,’ PM warns after Iran steel plant cyberattack

Speaking at Cyber Week conference, Bennett says ‘wreaking havoc in Tehran’ is not a policy, but Israel will respond to assaults; top cyber official says Iran a ‘dominant rival’

By EMANUEL FABIAN Today, 12:36 pm   


Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks at the Cyber Week conference in Tel Aviv, June 28, 2022. (Screenshot: Youtube)

Outgoing Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warned Tuesday, a day after Iran’s major steel companies were hit by a cyberattack, that anyone who attempts a cyberattack against Israel would “pay a price.”

“[The] approach with our enemies, especially Iran… we don’t go around wreaking havoc in Tehran — that’s never been our policy. Our policy is, if you mess with Israel, you’ll pay a price,” Bennett said at the Cyber Week conference in Tel Aviv.

Monday’s large cyberattack forced the state-owned Khuzestan Steel Co. to halt production, and two other major steel producers also reported being targeted.

An anonymous hacking group claimed responsibility on social media for the attack, saying it had targeted Iran’s three biggest steel companies in response to the “aggression of the Islamic Republic.”

The group, calling itself “Gonjeshke Darande,” shared what purported to be closed-circuit footage from the Khuzestan Steel Co. factory floor that showed the malfunction of a piece of heavy machinery on a steel bar production line, causing a massive fire.

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Israeli military correspondents, who are regularly briefed off-the-record by senior Israeli officials, hinted that Israel was directly responsible for the assault in retaliation to a suspected cyberattack that caused rocket sirens to be heard in Jerusalem and Eilat last week.

“Just like there’s nuclear deterrence, there’s going to be cyber deterrence… If anyone attacks us on cyber, we’re going to attack back,” Bennett said.

A screenshot from what is believed to be closed-circuit footage obtained from Iran’s Khuzestan Steel Co. factory floor where a piece of heavy machinery on a steel billet production line malfunctions and causes a massive fire, June 27, 2022. (Screenshot: Twitter)

Also speaking at Monday’s conference, Israel’s National Cyber Directorate chief Gaby Portnoy said Iran had become a “dominant rival” in cyberspace, amid relentless attempts to attack civilian infrastructure in the past year.

“There is no longer only one type of an ideological official enemy. On the one hand, Iran has become our dominant rival in cyber, together with Hezbollah and Hamas,” Portnoy said. “We see them, we know how they work, and we are there.

“On the other hand, the spectrum also was stretched to attackers, attack groups, proxies, independent crime organizations, and private people,” Portnoy added.

According to data presented by the directorate at the conference, 1,500 cyberattacks on the Israeli home front were foiled over the past year alone.

Brig. Gen. (ret.) Gaby Portnoy, director general of the Israel National Cyber Directorate, in Tel Aviv, May 2, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Israel and Iran have for years been involved in a largely clandestine cyberwar tthat occasionally bubbles to the surface. Israeli officials have accused Iran of attempting to hack Israel’s water system in 2020.

In turn, Iran has accused the United States and Israel of cyberattacks that have impaired the country’s infrastructure.

Iran disconnected much of its government infrastructure from the internet after the Stuxnet computer virus — widely believed to be a joint US-Israeli creation — disrupted thousands of Iranian centrifuges in the country’s nuclear sites in the late 2000s.

In a major incident last year, a cyberattack on Iran’s fuel distribution system paralyzed gas stations across the country, leading to long lines of angry motorists. The same anonymous hacking group, Gonjeshke Darande, claimed responsibility for the attack on fuel pumps.

AP contributed to this report.

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