Cyberattack suspected behind false siren alerts in Jerusalem, Eilat

National Cyber Directorate investigating possible hack after civilian warning systems – not military – activated on Sunday; said examining if Iranian hackers behind attack

A screen shot of a siren. (screen capture: YouTube)
A screen shot of a siren. (screen capture: YouTube)

Security officials suspect that rocket sirens heard in Jerusalem and Eilat on Sunday were the result of a cyberattack.

The Israel National Cyber Directorate (INCD) believes hackers may have been behind the incident due to the fact that the sirens activated were civilian rather than part of the Home Front Command network, according to a statement issued Monday by the Israel Defense Forces.

Local authorities have been instructed to take preventative measures against the threat, the statement said.

The Cyber Directorate is examining whether Iranian hackers were behind the alleged attack, according to unsourced reports in Hebrew-language media.

Jerusalem residents reported hearing the sirens in the city’s Katamonim, Beit Hakerem, and Neve Yaakov neighborhoods. They said the alerts lasted for nearly an hour.

In an initial statement on Sunday, the Israel Defense Forces said the sirens were a result of a technical malfunction, but later noted that they sounded on civilian loudspeakers rather than the military’s own network.

Illustrative: A cybersecurity expert stands in front of a map of Iran as he speaks to journalists about the techniques of Iranian hacking, on September 20, 2017, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (AP/Kamran Jebreili)

Tensions between Israel and Iran have intensified in recent weeks, after the assassination of a top Iranian officer in Tehran last month that Iran blames on Israel, a number of other deaths of security and scientific personnel inside Iran, airstrikes against Iran-linked targets in Syria, threatening rhetoric from Iranian leaders, and Iran’s increasing violations of nuclear agreements.

These tensions led Israel to urge its citizens in Turkey to leave immediately in recent days, over concerns that Iranian agents were planning to kill or kidnap Israelis there. The warnings came amid unverified reports in the press that Israeli and Turkish intelligence had together thwarted several planned attacks by a broad network of Iranian agents, nabbing some of the suspects.

Israeli cybersecurity firm Check Point Research reported last week that Iranian hackers recently led a spear-phishing operation against high-ranking Israeli and Israel-linked targets, including former foreign minister Tzipi Livni and a former US ambassador to the Jewish state.

Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

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