Tel Aviv – The Middle East conflict is no longer fought only with bombs, rockets and tanks. Over the past 18 days, pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli hackers have waged an online war. Radical Islamists have welcomed the spate of anti-Israeli cyber attacks, terming them ‘a new form of resistance against the Israeli occupation’ and calling for an ‘electronic jihad’ against the Jewish state.
Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon spoke of an ‘act of terrorism’ and a ‘declaration of war’ – only to see his own official site defaced by a group dubbed the Gaza Hacker Team. The first shot of the new tit-for-tat round in the decades-old Arab-Israeli conflict was fired after New Year’s Day, by a hacker who calls himself 0xOmar, says he is 19 and from Saudi Arabia.
He published online the credit card details of thousands of Israelis, after breaking into what he said were more than 80 Israeli servers.
‘We decided to give the world a New Year gift,’ he wrote in a January 2 post on Pastebin, a free-text hosting site.
The Bank of Israel confirmed at least 15,000 of some 400,000 published were valid. The fiercely anti-Israeli hacker pledged to continue releasing, bit by bit, 200 new working ones each day. ‘Enjoy it world! Purchase stuff for yourself online, buy anything you want,’ he wrote. So far, one Israeli, an 18-year-old, has been arrested for buying a home cinema set, a smart phone and a tablet computer. Police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said he had no reports of other attempts to use the published credit cards.
Even without having caused serious economic damage, the hacker has made waves in Israel. In interviews with Israeli and Arab journalists via an email address he published, he vowed, unable to hurt Israel from Saudi Arabia, to ‘fight for Islam and Palestine’ in cyberspace. He said he lived in Riyadh with his parents, who know he is ‘0xOmar’ and are ‘proud’ of him. Denying claims by one Israeli that he is a United Arabs Emirates national living in Mexico, his identity remains unconfirmed.
On Monday, the hacker, joined he said by a group calling itself Nightmare, went on to paralyse Israeli websites, including of the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and Israel’s El-Al International Airlines.
Israeli and Jewish hackers have not waited long to launch counter-attacks. Someone calling himself Hannibal on Sunday published the log-in details of 20,000 Arab Facebook users and promised to publish 2,000-100,000 more each day, depending ‘on my mood.’
A group calling itself the IDF Team, in reference to the Israel Defence Forces, said they knocked down websites in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, including that of Saudi Arabian Airlines and Abu Dhabi’s Stock Exchange, from 8 until 11 am Tuesday.
Yet another, calling itself Nuclear, late Wednesday published what it said were the full credit card details, including security codes, of 4,800 Saudi Arabians.
‘The war is only beginning. We are not afraid to fight back,’ promised one IDF team post. But Israeli Intelligence Minister Dan Meridor has called counter- attacks ‘unhelpful.’ They ‘shouldn’t be done in Israel’s name,’ he told Israel Radio, noting it was not certain the hackers were Saudi.
Gabriel Weimann, a Haifa University communication professor who has written books on the issue, said the attacks were ‘very low level’ and amounted to cyber crime and vandalism – not yet to cyber terrorism.
Breaking into ill-protected small and medium-sized companies which sell online, or bringing down websites for several hours, by ordering thousands of personal computers infected with dormant viruses to enter them, ‘is really what any beginner in hacking can do,’ he said. ‘I’m not that concerned about what has happened so far, but much more about what will happen in the future,’ he told dpa.
‘Terrorists are looking at what happens now and saying, why don’t we use it too?’ Groups with greater resources are already looking into hiring professional hackers to break into highly protected and sophisticated computer systems running airports, trains, electricity and actual stock exchange trading – not just the websites.
Such attacks, he said, would be real cyber terrorism.
‘It’s a dark cloud on the horizon that is approaching us. How soon it will come, we don’t know, but it will come.’