Despite claims, Iranians didn’t hack Israeli aviation system

Hackers’ declarations are simply a case of psychological warfare, according to an expert on Middle East cyber-attacks

One of the maps the ICRG claims to have 'hacked' off the website of the Israel Aviation Authority (photo credit: Screenshot)
One of the maps the ICRG claims to have 'hacked' off the website of the Israel Aviation Authority (photo credit: Screenshot)

Iranian hackers did not compromise the Israel Airports Authority, despite claims by the Islamic Cyber Resistance Group that it was able to hack into databases controlling air routes for Israeli and foreign airlines, said Israeli Internet expert Tal Pavel.

“It’s just another example of Iranian psychological warfare by the Iranians,” he told The Times of Israel. “There is nothing for anyone to worry about from these people.”

On Thursday, ICRG released a statement on the Iranian Wikileaks site that was picked up Iran’s state-controlled Fars News Agency claiming the hack. Along with documents and maps, Fars published a quote by the hacker group that said it was “proud to add another one to its line of success and announces access to the LAN of Israeli aviation organization, in a move to render the fake legend of Israel’s security and invincibility obsolete.”

With the help of the OpIsrael hacker group — the same one that failed to fulfill its threat last April to destroy Israel’s Internet infrastructure and send the country back to the “stone age” — ICRG said, it has for months been privy to the traffic on the IAA website, enough time, the group said, “to download a huge amount of data and analyze and study different modules of Israel’s air traveling and aviation systems. This brought us valuable information regarding flight communication structures and processes in Israel.”

If it wanted to, ICRG said, it could cause any number of air crashes and tragedies.

And if Israel did not “straighten out,” it would do so, the group said. “At present all the data and information on the server has been wiped and the website is down,” the group’s statement said. “But to those who simply gift death to innocent people: Be aware that death is close to you, Closer than what you can even think of, And is getting closer day by day.”

Over the past several months, ICRG has been unusually active in proclaiming hack victories. The group has claimed, to have taken control of, among others, IDF websites, Israeli banking networks, and Saudi Arabia’s military and civil aviation system. All of those claims have been denied by the organizations in question.

None of those takeovers took place, said Pavel, a lecturer at Netanya Academic College and director of the MiddleEastNet website, which documents and discusses alleged hacking attacks throughout the Middle East.

“Anytime this group can put together a plausible story they do,” said Pavel. “In this case, they managed to get hold of an IAA training manual, possibly from a contact in Israel. The manual has nothing that is not publicly available on the Internet or in Google Maps, and most of it is on the Internet anyway.

“But with the maps and documents that, if the reader didn’t know better, appear to be ‘top secret,’ they could weave a tale that sounds believable, at least to those who don’t know better.”

While the story is easily debunked — there have been no air crashes in Israel recently, and the IAA website is operating normally — the truth isn’t the point, said Pavel. “It’s all about psychological warfare,” he said. “Anti-Israel groups feel better about themselves, and their patron governments and organizations are impressed, so they keep the funding up. Meanwhile, impressionable Israelis or potential tourists to Israel read these claims, so the hackers figure it may have an effect on some of them.”

In a recent interview, Professor Yitzchak ben-Yisrael, who heads Tel Aviv University’s Yuval Ne’eman Workshop for Science, Technology and Security, and helped establish the Prime Minister’s National Cyber Committee, said that Israel experienced about 1,000 cyber-attacks per minute, every day, all day — and most of them are not from hacker groups like the ICRG, but from states, organized crime, and terrorist groups. “A cyber-war can inflict the same type of damage as a conventional war,” Ben-Yisrael said.

“If you want to hit a country severely you hit its power and water supplies. Cyber technology can do this without shooting a single bullet.” Cyber-security, he said, “is not about saving information or data. It’s about securing the various life systems regulated by computers,” he added.

Israel, he added, was very vigilant about protecting its computer systems, and so far, despite their many attempts, hackers have failed to hit any of Israel’s critical cyber-infrastructure.

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