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Israel Moves To Block Trojan Computer Attack
Israeli police officers have been banned from using memory sticks or disks in their computers and had their equipment disconnected from the internet, in a frantic bid to prevent the injection of a dangerous virus named after the country's military chief.
The dramatic move last week was no great surprise. It's just another round in the cyber war which has engulfed the Middle East.
It may be a prelude to a real war between the Jewish state and Iran.
The Israeli police moves to try to shut out the trojan - a hidden malware programme which lurks within benign software and is programmed to destroy equipment or spy - came as a result of an "intelligence tip".
Benny Gantz-55, named after Israel's top soldier, has not, yet, emerged. It is conceivable that the shutdown of the police facilities came just in time.
It serves as a reminder that cyber weapons are now very much in the vanguard of modern war.
Benny Gantz-55 may have been a prank. It may also have been generated by Iran's burgeoning cyber warfare centres which have been rapidly expanded since Tehran's nuclear programme was hit by the Stuxnet virus in 2010.
Most experts agree that that malware was created in a joint programme between the US and Israel. It broke over 1,000 centrifuges at the Natanz nuclear facility, where the West believes Iran is refining uranium to weapons grade.
Since then, cyber war has escalated - but there is no longer anything "virtual" about it. These days, software like Stuxnet is designed to break hardware and disrupt the real world.
This year, communications between Iran's oil refineries and offshore sites was disrupted.
Banks in Iran and Lebanon have been infected by the W32/Flame-A and Gauss viruses, which are thought to come from the same lab as Stuxnet.
Iran is blamed for a counter attack, singling out long-standing Arab rivals.
The Shamoon virus shut down 30,000 computers at the Saudi state oil company Aramco and hit the Qatari state-run gas firm RasGas.
Middle Eastern countries suffer tens of thousands of malware attacks every day. As a result they are rushing to recruit the brightest computer experts to fill the ranks of new cyber armies.
In Israel, cyber warriors are celebrated as national heroes. A recent awards ceremony for technological brilliance in the Israeli Defence Forces at the armoured divisions' headquarters in Latrun, soldier geeks were treated to a rousing pop concert attended by at least 3,500 other service personnel.
Israel's intelligence minister Dan Merridor summed up why spods - people who spend long periods of time in internet chat rooms - are the new Spartans.
"I think being a small nation we can never rely on quantities, we always need to rely on quality - to be better than our competitors, enemies and adversaries," he said.
"So even in this world of computers, we need to be at the forefront of the science. I hope that we will be able to be there in order to stop those who want to harm us and to do it better than others. This is a must for us."
Iran takes a similar view.
"It has been a new front, a new game of war, something which the Iranians up until a couple of years ago were not equipped for or aware of such warfare," said professor Sadegh Zibakalam at Tehran University.
"But it appears the Iranians have been able to defend themselves very efficiently. The revolutionary guard and various other military institutions in Iran have employed highly talented Iranian graduates, and we have three to four applied science faculties."
The Gulf states' small and largely foreign-trained armies are also rushing to catch up.
"Recent wars gave us lessons," said Lt Col Faisal al Samari, a cyber expert with the UAE's interior ministry.
"Sometimes attacking critical infrastructure can happen with a bomb and sometimes it can happen with a simple virus that can cripple the whole network and disrupt the service, causing it to stop providing what it should be."
But for all the effort put into cyber combat, experts have identified a crude and dangerous new weapon.
Social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook have been harnessed by revolutionaries in the Arab Spring.
But they can be used to spread disinformation, propaganda and panic.
Yael Shahar, a cyber security consultant in Israel, described a recent 'war game' in which lies were used to spread mayhem in London.
"We did it with government officials and hackers working together," he said.
"We found that within a few stages of hacking news sites and putting out fake messages through the SMS network, they were able to make it seem as if there had been a chemical attack in central London, causing mass panic and then blaming it on Islamic radicals living in certain neighbourhoods.
"Then we put out atrocity videos saying that the police were going in and taking out those neighbourhoods.
"The effects were devastating - you could not put that genie back in the bottle. This is something that I don't think any government is set up to handle."