Hamas has welcomed the latest in a string of hacking attacks against Israeli websites. Among those hit were the Tel Aviv stock exchange and national airline El Al in a deepening cyber war launched earlier this month by a group claiming to be Saudis.
Neither website contains sensitive information and trading and flights were not affected. The Islamist group, which governs the small Palestinian territory of Gaza, hailed the attacks as a blow against the Jewish state, which it refuses to recognise. ‘This is a new field of resistance against the Occupation and we urge Arab youth to develop their methods in electronic warfare in the face of [Israel’s] crimes,’ Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said in Gaza.
Israel’s third-largest bank, Discount, said it had been spared attack, but that it was temporarily shutting down foreign access to its website as a precaution.
The continuing raids by hackers, who use anti-Israel language in their posts, has revealed how vulnerable Israel is to cyber warfare, despite its sophisticated computer security units in the military and advanced hi-tech sector.
The attacks began earlier this month when hackers identifying themselves as group-xp, a known Saudi hacking group, claimed on an Israeli sports website to have gained access to 400,000 Israeli credit card accounts.
The group called it a ‘gift to the world for the New Year’ designed to ‘hurt the Zionist pocket’. Israeli authorities said 15,000 accounts were hacked in that episode and credit card information of about 6,000 other Israelis was disclosed online a few days later by the same network.
Last week, an Israeli hacker identifying himself as a soldier in an Israeli intelligence unit retaliated by posting information online about hundreds of Saudis, Egyptians, Syrians and others.
El Al Israel Airlines took down its website after the alleged Saudi network linked to previous attacks warned that both sites would be targeted by allied pro-Palestinian hackers, a source close to the company said.
The company said it was taking security measures to protect the website and that disruptions on the site were to be expected.
A spokeswoman for the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange said the site was overwhelmed by electronic requests that slowed it down dramatically but it was still operating. Trading was not affected. Cyber experts say Israel is a common target for online attackers. There have been no confirmed reports of sensitive Israeli government sites being hacked. Several weeks ago, websites of Israeli spy services and other official sites briefly went down, but the government denied hackers were to blame and characterised the event as a technical malfunction.
Israel is a world leader in cyber security, and the Shin Bet internal security agency provides advisory services to sensitive business sectors such as banks and public utilities.
Israeli Information Minister Yuli Edelstein told a conference in Tel Aviv that the cyber attacks were part of a wider move to smear the country’s reputation and ‘threaten Israel’s economic stability and security’. ‘It’s another episode in the war our enemies are conducting as a campaign of delegitimisation to hit our pockets and lifestyle,’ he said, in reported comments confirmed by his spokesman. ‘Israel must use all measures at its disposal to prevent these virtual dangers from turning into real threats and to prevent with all its force attacks against it and its institutions. ‘Today it’s credit card theft and toppling websites – and tomorrow it could be theft of security information and harm to infrastructure.’ Israel opened an agency to tackle cyber attacks earlier this month.
A founding member of the unit, Isaac Ben-Israel, said the country’s most vital systems were already protected, but that incidents like the ones seen recently would only increase. ‘As long as the systems are not guarded, any hacker anywhere in the world can break into them and do damage,’ Ben-Israel said on Israel Radio.
‘I believe that, done right, in a year or two, we will be able to wipe out all these hackers’ threats.’