Cyber as a silent nuclear weapon: Former director of Mossad urges global leaders to take charge of cyberspace

Cyber as a silent nuclear weapon: Former director of Mossad urges global leaders to take charge of cyberspace
Tamir Pardo, from left, and Ahn Cheol-soo are discussing cybersecurity during a session at the World Knowledge Forum, which was held on September 22. Photo by Maeil Business Newspaper

By Dain Oh, The Readable
Sep. 23, 2022 8:04PM KST

World Knowledge Forum 2022 ― Seoul ― A former director of the Mossad, the national intelligence agency of Israel, emphasized global risks which are increased by cyber threats in the same way that the world is threatened by nuclear proliferation.

“I define cyber [threats] as a silent nuclear weapon,” said Tamir Pardo, former director of the Mossad, during a session at the World Knowledge Forum where he attended virtually on Tuesday. “Unlike other weapons, [a cyber weapon] is quite hard to develop and quite expensive to buy. And this weapon can be activated by one person whether they are sitting at home or in an office.”

Pardo served as the director of the Mossad from 2011 to 2016. According to an introduction by XM Cyber, a company that Pardo cofounded, he started working for the Mossad in 1979 and worked his way up into leadership while serving in positions at all levels of the agency.

Tamir Pardo, former director of the Mossad and a cofounder of XM Cyber. Source: XM Cyber

His session at the forum was held under the title of “Cybersecurity for national security and cyber warfare.” Ahn Cheol-soo, member of the National Assembly of South Korea and a founder of the antivirus software firm Ahn Lab, took a role as a moderator in the session.

When Ahn asked how to respond to cyber threats, Pardo stressed a global leadership in cyberspace. “In the 50s of last century, Eisenhower of the United States understood that the nuclear threat is the greatest threat on this planet,” said Pardo. “[Eisenhower] and Bush cooperated to start a new organization, which is now the International Atomic Energy Agency, to control the nuclear for our planet. [At that time] 99% of the countries agreed to cooperate. When it comes to cyber, we don’t see any leadership around the world.”

The conversation between Pardo and Ahn went further to discuss destructive cyber weapons utilizing artificial intelligence. Pardo asserted that international society should not allow any attempts to use cyber tools for wrongful purposes. “We cannot be permissive, letting countries like Russia, North Korea, and China, to use cyber [weapons] in order to gain something. Punishment should be given to those who use cyber weapons in order to kill, destroy, and win something.”

To prevent countries from escalating cyber weapons, Pardo suggested the formation of a regulatory organization which can monitor and put sanctions on a country. “Countries always try to get more and more destructive weapons. We should put restrictions on them. We should create a copy of the IAEA to follow up nations using those weapons and put sanctions on them. Otherwise, we will lose control.”

To a question by Ahn, asking whether the cybersecurity industry should change its strategy of focusing on prevention because it is almost impossible to block every cyber-attack, Pardo mentioned that prevention is still an important measure for cybersecurity. “If we take the right action, we can prevent around 50 to 60 percent of cyber risks. Hygiene is the first and the most important thing in cybersecurity.”

Closing the session, Pardo again urged global leaders to take charge in cyberspace. “Unfortunately, we are living in a jungle with bad animals. But we, the good people, should take the right measure for order and not let them do whatever they want.”

Dain Oh is an award-winning cybersecurity journalist based in South Korea and the founding editor-in-chief of The Readable by S2W. Before joining S2W, she worked as a reporter for The Electronic Times, the top IT newspaper in Korea, covering the cybersecurity industry on an in-depth level. She reported numerous exclusive stories, and her work related to the National Intelligence Service led to her being honored with the Journalist of the Year Award in 2021 by the Korea Institute of Information Security and Cryptology in a unanimous decision. She was also the first journalist to report on the hacking of vulnerable wallpads in South Korean apartments, which later became a nation-wide issue.