Don’t believe hack claims against Mossad’s website, expert says

An examination of information posted by hackers and claimed to be purloined from confidential servers shows it probably isn’t what it seems

In an unsettling announcement, the hacker group known as Anonymous and affiliates proclaimed over the weekend that they had broken into the Mossad’s servers and stolen the names and personal details of top IDF officials, politicians and, especially, Mossad agents. But those claims are inflated, to say the least, according to Middle East Internet expert Dr. Tal Pavel.

“Whatever they stole, it probably wasn’t secure details of top Israeli brass, either from the army or the Mossad,” Pavel told The Times of Israel.

Reports on several hacker websites said that Anonymous, along with the Turkish group The Red Hack and the Arab group Sector404, both of which are allied with Anonymous, managed to break into the Mossad’s public website and steal several Excel spreadsheets containing the details of over 34,000 “Mossad agents.” The files list names of the alleged agents, email addresses (private and work), home addresses and other identification information. The hack is just the first of a major new front in Anonymous’ ongoing #OpIsrael campaign, which aims to destroy Israel’s cyber-presence.

But whatever it was that the hackers thought they got, it wasn’t a list of Mossad agents, said Pavel. “There is no doubt that they got some identification information about Israelis, but the claims that they hacked the Mossad site and got a list of Mossad agents is most likely psychological warfare, and not a hack into an important database,” said Pavel.

Pavel downloaded and analyzed the files (they were posted for all to see on hacker sites), and found that the information didn’t match what one would expect to find in the personal dossier of spies. “Many of the records in those files appear two, three, and even five times, with the identical information repeated,” said Pavel.

In addition, said Pavel, “there are many records that list the names of businesses associated with the individual, including shoe manufacturers, food companies, auto supply stores, high schools, municipalities, synagogues, and even NGOs,” many of which work with Palestinians.

Besides all that, Pavel added, a good chunk of the names list home or business addresses in Arab communities in Israel, including Taibe, Umm al-Fahm, Kafr Kassem, and others. “Whatever you want to say about any of the other inconsistencies, it’s extremely unlikely that thousands of Israeli Arabs are also Mossad agents,” he said.

Pavel, a professor at Netanya Academic College and director of the Middle East Internet Monitor website, can understand the temptation for amorphous groups like Anonymous to rush to take credit for hacking victories, especially against Israel.  Sometimes the desire for success is so great that hacker groups overreach, claiming victories where there are none.

And that, said Pavel, seems to be the case in the latest claim by hackers that they had successfully penetrated Mossad servers.

Besides the alleged record theft, Anonymous also claimed that it launched a “major DDOS (denial of service) attack” against the Mossad site, allegedly taking it down for hours. There was no confirmation of this by any outside source, though, and the hackers have not furnished any evidence of their succeeding in this either.

Pavel questions whether it was even the Mossad site that the hackers hacked. “There have been plenty of lists of Israelis leaked over the past several years from credit card companies, businesses, and so on, and it’s very possible that the latest claims are a recycling of some of those lists,” said Pavel. “But looking at the data on the Israelis that the hackers posted – they just don’t look like Mossad material to me.”

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