Led by the Cyber Defense Division, teams from across the IDF (Zahal), national security community, the civilian sector, and international delegations went head-to-head in a Star Wars-themed hacking competition in Tel Aviv. To win, our soldiers (and their competitors) need to think like the enemy.

Darth Vader, Hacking, and Healthy Competition: IDeFense Puts IDF Cyber Security on the Map

“Not long ago, in our very own galaxy…” begins the video, in familiar scrolling text. The music swells, and the participants, their laptops at the ready, receive their mission via a short film. Darth Vader and his Stormtroopers are guarding a soon-to-be-released movie from “Pisney” Studios, but all is not going as planned. Teams of the best and brightest hackers are mounting an attack from Tel Aviv in an attempt to steal the movie. Darth Vader promises Emperor Palpatine that they will not succeed. IDeFense’s participants know better.

Darth Vader, Hacking, and Healthy Competition: IDeFense Puts IDF Cyber Security on the Map

On May 23, 40 teams of cyber defense experts from the military, national security, and civilian worlds came to Tel Aviv’s Yitzhak Rabin Center for the third annual IDeFense tournament. The teams competed in a “capture the flag” exercise. IDF (Zahal) teams faced off against each other, experts from major civilian companies, and delegations from around the world. Participants needed to think quickly and creatively – multiple challenges, each requiring their own solutions, stood in the way of victory. While the goal of the competitors was, of course, to win, the event had a larger objective: To get the men and women on the front line of cyber security to think like a malicious hacker.  

Darth Vader, Hacking, and Healthy Competition: IDeFense Puts IDF Cyber Security on the Map

“We need to get inside the heads of attackers,” said Col. H, the commander of the Joint Cyber Defense Operations Department. “We need to know how they act, to understand their way of thinking, in order to help us defend ourselves against them.” The event also helps the IDF (Zahal) maintain its connections to the national and international defense communities, and to keep its professional manpower ready to think outside the box.  At the end of the day, though, the purpose of IDeFense is fun.  Maj. O, Cyber Defense Officer in the C4I Directorate, stresses that it’s an opportunity for soldiers and civilians in the field to let loose. “It breaks up the day-to-day routine for the participants,” she says, and the Star Wars theme only helps.

Maj. O. notes just how quickly the event has grown. “We started out in 2014 with 12 teams, all Israeli. Two years later we have 40, and the international delegations contact us to ask if they can participate. IDF (Zahal) delegations have always gone to international cyber defense games, but IDeFense puts us on the map.”