Arab-Israeli Conflict Comes to Cyberspace

An Israeli hacker posted the Facebook information of tens of thousands of Arabs, news sources reported Monday. The hacker identified himself as Hannibal, explaining that he “admire[s] the character Hannibal Lecter and his movies,” to whom he refers as “The figure of genius.”The Internet revolution has changed the lives of millions for the better, but, according to recent media reports it has also enabled a new form of terrorism. In the last two weeks, computer hackers have infiltrated websites, exposed the private information of thousands, and paralyzed the Internet presence of several prominent commercial institutions. The latest hacking battles took place on Monday, as a pro-Palestinian group launched an attack that provoked a retaliatory response from an Israeli cohort.

In what appeared to be part of the ongoing campaign to “hurt the Zionist pocket,” a pro-Palestinian group named Nightmare sabotaged the active websites of the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange (TASE) and the Israeli Airline, El Al. The websites were brought down due to an abnormal number of hits, with the average volume of visitors skyrocketing from 50 to approximately 1,000 per second. “As soon as we saw that the number had risen to about 1,000, we closed it down,” said El Al’s spokeswoman.

Though neither flights nor trades were affected, the incident was not treated lightly. “We are putting up blocks to the hackers,” said Yoni Shemesh, who monitors the TASE website, shortly after the hacking began. “It is a real cyberwar.”  Both websites were largely nonfunctional by 10 AM on Monday.

Israeli banks responded by blocking IP addresses from Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Algeria. The banks had been the victims of a hack attack earlier this month, as a cohort self-identified as “Group-XP” revealed the credit card information of more than 15,000 Israelis.

Israelis had received word of the impending hit on Sunday, when a hacker self-identified as OxOmar notified the Yediot Acharonot news source of Nightmare’s plans to freeze the two websites. This warning eerily followed the words of Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri, who welcomed cyberterrorism in a news conference held Sunday.  “The penetration into Israeli websites opens a new front for electronic resistance and war against the Israeli occupation,” he said.

The Israelis responded in kind by launching a cyberattack on the Saudi Arabian stock exchange and the UAE’s exchange on Tuesday. “Because lame hackers from Saudi Arabia decided to launch an attack against Israeli sites,” one member of a hacker cooperative calling itself the “IDF-team”  said in an online forum, they opted to conduct a similar operation. “If the lame attacks from Saudi Arabia will continue,” the hacker explained, “we will move to the next level, which will disable these sites longer term.”

 According to the Jerusalem Post, the websites had indeed been brought down on Tuesday as both appeared to be offline following the hackers’ announcement.

While going on the offensive could make for an effective defense in the short term, computer science experts caution that Israel has a long way to go in the field of cyberwarfare. “In terms of attack, [Israel can succeed] but in terms of defense, we are a very small and pretty neglected country,” explained Avi Weissman of the Israeli Forum for Information Security.

Others were less daunted.  “Right now, we’re not seeing anything that’s especially interesting or especially dangerous,” remarked Gadi Evron, who once held a prominent position in Internet Security for Israel. A pro-Israel hacker identifying himself as Hannibal has assertively vowed to resume his hack-attacks of Arabian sites, which included his confirmed acquisition of the Facebook information of over 20,000 Arabs. He posted the information on Monday, and left a reassuring note to the Israeli government.

“State of Israel, not to worry, you’re in the hands of the world’s best hacker that I am. (sic)  I will continue to support the government of Israel will continue to attack the Arab countries.  In addition, I received thousands of emails [from] helpless Arabs, who are begging me to stop publishing the Facebook accounts because it violates their browsing experience.  I have about 30 million e-mails of Arabs with passwords; I’ll post them throughout my life and my personal list is growing every day hundreds of thousands of emails,” he wrote. When asked by the Algemeiner of the origin of his alias, the hacker alluded to his reverence of the eponymous character of the 2001 film. “Iadmire the character Hannibal Lecter and his movies. The figure of genius.”

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