For Gaza and Israel, it could be much, much worse

Global Post, By Noga Tarnopolski

TEL AVIV, Israel — In the few quiet days separating the Petraeus scandal from the explosion of hostilities between Israel and Hamas, a gaggle of geeks with an interest in both events gathered in Tel Aviv at a conference called HLS2012.

The subject: cyber-security. Or, in other words, monsters in the night. There they were, in their tweed jackets and sturdy-framed glasses, talking about what no one wants to talk about.

“The next war will use digital elements — but will not be a digital war,” said Dr. Nimrod Kozlovski, a consultant on law and information technology and information security, with eerie prescience.

In fact, much of the discussion in conference corridors puts in chilling perspective the cyber chatter that broke out at the start of the current Israel-Gaza conflict.

It made the news that Israel announced its Gaza operation over Twitter — and the Al Qassem brigades replied, through missiles and mocking cybernetic missives. The Anonymous hacker collective played its usual part, attacking various websites in support of the Palestinians.

But all this is practically cute to those who attended the conference.

What would a real digital war look like?

Like the most terrifying sci-fi movie you’ve ever seen. The collapse of international banking systems. Pilots desperately pushing buttons as their planes fall from of the sky. Blood types rearranging in hospital blood banks.

Among this crowd, 9/11 is old news, old tech. Why train terrorist pilots if you can quite simply reprogram an aircraft?

“You have to take into account that any cyber attack can be a precursor to a traditional attack” Tom Ridge, the former US Secretary of Homeland Security, told GlobalPost at the conference. “Just think of the ubiquity of the internet. It is the backbone of your world, of commerce, of defense. We’ve put everything on digital platforms.”

Ridge says terror and cyber-warfare are the two greatest challenges facing the Western world. “Cyber is so potentially disruptive that it may prove even more serious than terror,” he said.

The governments of Israel and the United States deflect thousands of attacks daily, millions a year. And the internet is so porous, Ridge emphasizes, that “you have to operate as if the attacker is already within your system.”

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1 comment to For Gaza and Israel, it could be much, much worse

  • adrena

    Cyber Attacks From Iran and Gaza on Israel More Threatening Than Anonymous’s Efforts

    NYT, By Nicole Perlroth

    Anonymous, the loose coalition of hackers waging war on Israeli Web sites, is the least of Israel’s cyber problems. Its campaign against Israel is a minor annoyance compared with a wave of cyber attacks that have hit the country over the last year from Iran and Gaza.

    Since Wednesday — when Israel began air strikes into Gaza—Anonymous hackers have retaliated with millions of hacking efforts on Israeli government and private business sites, intermittently taking hundreds offline, defacing some with anti-Israel messages, deleting Web databases for others and dumping thousands of citizens’ usernames and passwords online.

    The campaign, which hackers have dubbed #OpIsrael, is essentially the digital equivalent of a business getting hit with graffiti; it is a costly nuisance, but eventually databases can be recovered, messages removed and sites come back online. Israeli officials say the vast majority of the hacking efforts over the last week on government sites — some 44 million tries by one official’s count — have been unsuccessful, with the exception of one site that went “wobbly for a few minutes,” the Israeli finance minister, Yuval Steinitz, told reporters, before recovering.

    Attacks from Iran and Gaza are another matter.

    In July, security researchers at Kaspersky Lab and Seculert, two computer security firms, discovered that a strain of malware had infected Israeli companies. Many of those companies handle critical infrastructure, like the country’s energy and water supplies, computer and telecom networks. The malware, which the researchers named “Mahdi” after a command in its code, appears to have originated in Iran. Elements of the code were written in Farsi, dates in the malware’s code were formatted according to the Persian calendar, and the domains used in the attacks were registered to Islamic Azad University in Tehran. The term “Mahdi” may have also been a clue; for Shiites, Mahdi is a messianic figure.

    The malware was designed to spy on computers by copying images and files, grabbing screenshots and using infected computers as recording devices to record users’ conversations. While many companies have been able to scrub the malware from their systems, security researchers say Mahdi is still actively spying on computers, predominantly in Israel, but also in Afghanistan, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and the United States.

    More recently, Israel was forced to take its police department offline two weeks ago after security experts discovered that many of the department’s computers had been infected with a remote-access tool, or RAT, which gives attackers realtime control of victims’ machines. The RAT appeared to be an off-the-shelf variation that can be bought on public sites for as little as $50.

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