Defense Ministry thwarts hacking attempts on its network
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Defense Ministry thwarts hacking attempts on its network

Origin of cyber-attack remains under gag order; email carrying remote-access Trojan reaches some computers

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Cadets in the IDF Cyber Defense Unit course, June 10, 2013 (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
Cadets in the IDF Cyber Defense Unit course, June 10, 2013 (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)

The Defense Ministry thwarted several attempted cyber-attacks targeting its open network in recent weeks, Channel 2 reported on Monday.

An email sent to Defense Ministry employees containing a file attachment carrying malicious software, which allowed for the remote access of the agency’s open-networked computers, was mostly blocked by the ministry’s anti-hacking units.

The infected message managed, however, to get through to a handful of employees in various Defense Ministry departments, but did not breach the system.

Ministry officials said the software was a type of remote-access Trojan, which gives hackers access to computer files, as well as the ability to record keystrokes and take computer screenshots.

Additional details on the origin of the attempted hacking remained under gag order, the report said.

In an effort to improve cyber-security procedures, security personnel at the ministry warned employees of future cyber-attacks, outlining the warning signs that indicate hackers are attempting to infiltrate the Defense Ministry computers.

The Defense Ministry, in response, said that even if its network security had been breached by the Trojan, its classified material was not at risk. “This was not [an attack targeting] the internal network and/or classified information, rather on the Internet, which is unclassified.

“The ministry’s defense systems acted to prevent the Internet from being affected at all,” the statement said.

The defacement used by hackers to attack Israeli websites as part of the OpIsrael cyber-attack on April 7, 2015. (screen capture: yossiyonah.org.il)
The defacement used by hackers to attack Israeli websites as part of the OpIsrael cyber-attack on April 7, 2015. (screen capture: yossiyonah.org.il)

Monday’s announcement comes one month after the National Cyber Authority in the Prime Minister’s Office warned that Israel could be the target of an imminent, wide-scale cyber-attack.

Government ministries and security agencies were alerted to look for any changes in their computer systems, and security officials were instructed to prepare for “any possible scenario,” the Israeli daily Haaretz reported in July.

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

In April, hackers from the Anonymous hacking group defaced dozens of Israeli websites in what it warned would be an “electronic holocaust.” Dubbed OpIsrael, the anti-Israel hackers targeted websites of the Israeli government and organizations, Facebook pages and gained access to personal emails.

The annual attacks have thus far not caused disruption of Internet services in Israel, and have failed to bring down any major government websites.

In response, Israel has invested resources to streamline its offensive and defensive cyber capabilities, and announced last month the establishment of a new Israel Defense Forces corps responsible for all such cyber activity.

Israel has become a center of cyber-security research and development, with multinationals from the US, Europe and Asia setting up R&D labs to develop better and more effective cyber-defense strategies and technologies.

Israeli cyber-security firms are said to export $3 billion in knowledge, services and solutions each year, developing many of the technologies the world will need in the coming years to protect banks, infrastructure and government servers.

Last year, Chinese hackers succeeded in penetrating Israeli security firms and stealing information about Israel’s Iron Dome system, the Arrow missile, drone fleets and other security systems.

Mitch Ginsburg contributed to this report.

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