After threatening to send the country to “Israhell” last summer, anti-Israel hackers are promising an “electronic Holocaust” next month.
An electronic voiceover claiming to be from the amorphous hacking group Anonymous warned in a video released this week that hackers “will punish the foolish Zionist entity” for its “bombing, killing and kidnapping of the Palestinian people.”
“As we did many times, we will take down your servers, government web sites, Israeli military web sites and Israeli institutions,” the voiceover said. “We will erase you from cyberspace in our electronic Holocaust”, which the group says will take place on April 7.
Though they call themselves “anonymous,” said Daniel Cohen, a research associate at the Israel Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) Cyber Warfare program, they have conducted enough attacks against Israel for experts to get some data on their identity.
According to Cohen, the Op-Israel hackers responsible for the actions are mostly from the Middle East, with connections to the local conflict. They are mostly Muslims from Gaza, Syria, Morocco and other countries in the region. As a group they generally oppose the establishment and are influenced by various radical Islamist and terrorist movements, who also drive them towards attacking Israel.
It’s a good example of “hacktivism,” where hackers either on their own or sponsored by activist groups or governments attack the servers and infrastructure of targeted entities, said Col. Gabi Siboni, head of the INSS Cyber Security Program.
“The terror challenges facing Israel and the West are not only physical, but cyber as well,” he said. “Israel is confronting these threats from Shiite Hezbollah and from Sunni Hamas on a daily basis. They are sophisticated and becoming more so.”
During Operation Protective Edge, Israel was fighting not just Gaza terrorists, but a large number of hackers. Then, the anti-Israel hackers said, the #OpSaveGaza operation would be “the greatest campaign ever against ‘ Israhell,’ to expose their terrorist activity to the world.”
During the war, said Isaac Ben-Israel, head of the Tel Aviv University’s Yuval Neeman Workshop for Science, Technology and Security, cyber attacks grew by 900%. “Instead of the usual 100,000 attacks we get each day, we were now getting a million such attacks from all over the Arab and Muslim world,” he recalled.
That number, he added, applied only to official government sites, citing the difficulty in knowing if a home or business computer had been hacked.
Speaking Monday, Yiftah Ron-Tal, the head of the Israel Electric Corporation, said that during the war the company’s servers and infrastructure alone were attacked nearly a million times each day.
“If we compare the number of cyber attacks in the war to the relative number of missiles fired by Hamas, Israel’s electric grid was hit by two ‘cyber missiles’ a day throughout 2013. In 2014, that would have been 15 a day,” said Ron-Tal, adding that, with all due respect to a missile that could destroy a single target, a “direct hit” on the electrical grid would have brought the entire country to its knees.
In fact, one of the biggest concerns in the cyber-defense business these days is the possibility of a major hack attack against infrastructure. Stuxnet, the cyberworm that attacked and paralyzed Iran’s nuclear program, put a real scare into the officials responsible for electricity, water and other critical infrastructure.
The issue will be discussed in depth next month at the US-Israel Defensive Cyberspace Operations & Intelligence (DCOI) conference to be held on April 27-28 in Washington, DC.
The conference is an Israeli-American partnership which seeks to promote informed public debate on cyber-net security and international collaborations in the technological, intelligence and policy-making domains. Among the participants in the event will be representatives of the Edison Electric Institute, a group that represents more than 700 American electrical utilities, and the Business Round Table, which counts among its membership some of the largest banks, manufacturers, defense contractors and others in the US.
Israelis have generally taken Op-Israel attacks in stride, relying on the country’s significant cyber-defense capabilities to keep data safe. Still, say experts, taking precautions would be a good idea. In advance of the occasion, government offices have urged workers to take precautions, such as avoiding clicking on links or attachments in e-mail messages, changing passwords, and avoiding web sites suspected of dumping malware on Internet users who surf those sites.
But according to Siboni, it’s just a matter of time before new, more sophisticated measures are needed. The hackers, he said, are sophisticated and becoming more so. There is no question that in due course, the United States and other Western countries will face the same threats as Israel from these groups as well as from ISIS, if they are not already. ISIS is particularly adept at using the world-wide web to further its goals.
“But it is not only terrorist groups that perpetuate cyber attacks, nations do so as well and the need for cyber-security responses are growing exponentially,” he added.
Israel, unfortunately, is all too well-experienced as a hacking victim, and hopefully, the country will be able to share some of its experience with the US to help that country remain cyber safe.
“Israel is a global cyber superpower, and top US government and business officials are very interested in what we have to say,” said Siboni. “The decision to hold the conference in the US capital will ensure that more Israeli technologies and companies become exposed to the US market, and increase the possibilities of cooperation, especially in the areas of critical infrastructure, intelligence, and information exchange on cyber threats.”