In response to the recent Hamas attack on Israel, politically motivated hackers have sprung into action, causing disruptions across various digital platforms. The implications of these cyberattacks are far-reaching, affecting news outlets and emergency services applications and sowing confusion among those attempting to follow the evolving situation in the region.
The Jerusalem Post, the prominent English-language newspaper in Israel, was one of the prime targets of this onslaught. It suffered a series of crippling cyberattacks over the weekend, and the responsibility for these assaults was claimed by Anonymous Sudan on its Telegram group. Thankfully, the Jerusalem Post’s website was back online as of Tuesday.
The RedAlert app, a real-time rocket alert application used by many Israeli citizens, was not spared either. Pro-Palestinian group AnonGhost identified a vulnerability within the app and sent fake alerts, causing panic by announcing a nuclear bomb threat. This disruptive action was documented by researchers at Group-IB.
Ghosts of Palestine, another pro-Palestine hacking group, declared on Monday, via its Telegram group, that it had targeted various organizations, including Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ben Gurion Airport. However, it appeared that these websites remained functional as of Monday afternoon.
This wave of politically motivated hacking, often referred to as “hacktivism,” is a recurrent theme during times of heightened international conflicts, particularly terrorist attacks and wars. During the Ukraine-Russia war, Russian hackers engaged in distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks against Ukrainian organizations and neighboring companies. While DDoS attacks may not be as severe as ransomware or traditional espionage, they compound the psychological impact of armed conflicts by restricting citizens’ access to essential online services.
As the Israel-Hamas conflict intensifies, there is a growing concern that more hacking groups will become involved. CyberKnow, a security research group specializing in tracking cyber warfare activities, estimated that at least 58 groups were actively launching DDoS attacks against Israeli and Palestinian organizations as of Monday. The Ghosts of Palestine even called on hackers worldwide to join their efforts against Israeli and U.S. public and private infrastructure.
Currently, the majority of cyber activity appears to support the Palestinian cause. Still, experts predict that more pro-Israel groups may emerge in response to these attacks. Among the estimated 58 groups participating in the conflict so far, CyberKnow believes that 10 are aligned with Israel, while 48 support Palestinians or oppose Israel. Some of the groups working against Israel have pro-Russia affiliations, such as Killnet.
Notably, state-backed hacking groups, particularly those associated with Iran, have long targeted Israel in both espionage campaigns and disruptive attacks. This ongoing digital conflict between Israel and Iran has led to incidents like downed gas stations, interrupted steel production, and near-breaches of water utilities. According to a Microsoft report, Iran ranked as the top country targeting Israel’s government and private organizations between July 2022 and June 2023.
Despite these hostilities, Rob Joyce, the director of cybersecurity at the National Security Agency, mentioned during the Cipher Brief Threat Conference that U.S. intelligence had not detected any significant cyber campaigns associated with the current conflict. However, it remains possible that such campaigns will be noticeable as the situation progresses. Cyber warfare has become an increasingly integral component of modern geopolitical conflicts and the sophistication is just in its development stage.
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