A cyber-hacker working for Iran hacked the computer of a former IDF chief-of-staff, an Israeli television report said Tuesday, and gained access to the unnamed army chief’s entire computer database.

The hacker was named by Channel 10 as Yaser Balaghi. He was said to have subsequently bragged about the hack, but he also inadvertently left behind a means to trace his identity. That error prompted Iran to halt the hacking operation, which targeted 1,800 people worldwide, including Israeli army generals, human rights activists in the Persian Gulf and scientists.

The Times of Israel reported on the Iranian hacking operation two weeks ago, after an Israeli cyber-security firm, Check Point, revealed its existence. Tuesday’s Channel 10 report also cited information from Check Point.

Gil Shwed, CEO of Check Point Software Technologies, told Israel Radio in late January that the attack began two months earlier and that its targets received email messages aimed at sending spyware into their computers.

An Israeli cyber-security expert displays the email left behind by an Iranian who Channel 10 television says hacked into the personal computer of a former IDF chief. (screen capture: Channel 10)

An Israeli cyber-security expert displays the email left behind by an Iranian, Yaser Balaghi, who Channel 10 television says hacked into the personal computer of a former IDF chief. (screen capture: Channel 10)

More than a quarter of the recipients opened the emails and thus unknowingly downloaded spyware, allowing the hackers to steal information from their hard drives.

Over the last two years, Israel has been targeted by a number of cyber-attacks. Officials say hackers affiliated with Hezbollah and the Iranian government were behind some of the infiltration attempts.

Gil Shwed (Courtesy)

Gil Shwed (Courtesy)

Also in late January, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz revealed that Israel’s Electric Authority was being targeted by a “severe cyber-attack,” although he did not say where it was coming from.

In June, the Israeli ClearSky cyber-security company said it had discovered an ongoing wave of cyber attacks originating from Iran on targets in Israel and the Middle East, with Israeli generals again among the targets. The goal is “espionage or other nation-state interests,” the firm said.

The hackers use techniques such as targeted phishing — in which hackers gather user identification data using false web pages that look like real and reputable ones — to hack into 40 targets in Israel and 500 worldwide, said ClearSky. In Israel the targets have included retired generals, employees of security consulting firms and researchers in academia.

Shwed warned that the pace of cyber-attacks is accelerating faster than the pace of investment in cyber safety.

Israel is second only to the United States in cyber-security technology, according to Gadi Tirosh, managing partner at Jerusalem Venture Partners, which has been one of the country’s most active investors in the field.

There are currently 173 companies in Israel big enough to be backed by venture capital companies and other major investors. That does not include the hundreds of others that are bootstrapped or relying on other sources of funds; altogether, there are 430 cyber companies currently operating in Israel, according to a report released earlier this month by the Israel Venture Capital (IVC) Research Center, with an average of 52 new cyber startups established annually since 2000.