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Hacktivist Group Anonymous Launches #OpIsrael Attacks

In a series of cyber incursions, Anonymous targeted Israeli government websites in a show of solidarity with Palestinians.

by Olivia Becker
Apr 8 2014, 7:45pm

Photo via Flickr

The internet-famous hacktivist collective, Anonymous has struck again. The group carried out a series of cyber attacks on Israeli websites and social media accounts on Monday, as part of an ongoing operation called #OpIsrael.

“We call upon our brothers and sisters to hack, deface, hijack, database leak and take over, and DNS terminate the Israeli cyberspace by any means necessary,” Anonymous declared in a video statement released Sunday.

According to the Israeli news agency Ynet, Anonymous successfully managed to briefly shut down the websites of the Ministry of Education, the Central Bureau of Statistics, and the Israeli postal service, but did not cause substantial damage.

The group also reportedly published the personal emails and contact information of dozens of Israelis online, according to the Israeli newspaper Jerusalem Post.

AnonGhost Team, a group affiliated with Anonymous, claimed on its website that it breached nearly 500 Israeli websites, with more to come. Last month, AnonGhost Team also claimed to have hacked into the website of Israel’s Ministry of Agriculture and successfully shut it down.

It appeared as though the website of the Ministry of Education had been compromised over the weekend, but according to a statement released by Israeli officials, the perceived problem was due to a “technical fault,” reported the Jerusalem Post.

“These attacks are most certainly a publicity stunt that also serve an important purpose of entertaining the participants,” Dr. Michael Orlov, Head of Cyber Operations in the Software Engineering department of Shamoon College in Israel, told VICE News. “The simplistic attacks like yesterday's on Israeli government sites have almost no impact on infrastructure security, and are relatively easy to mitigate.”

Monday’s operation was an attempt to demonstrate solidarity with Palestinians. In its statement, Anonymous said, “The further assault on the people of Gaza, who have been flooded by your sewage, terrorized by your military apparatus, and left to die at the border while waiting for medical attention will not be tolerated anymore.”

“Israel: it is in your best interest to cease any further military action or illegal settlements or your consequences will become worse with each passing hour,” the video states. “We will not stop until the police state becomes a free state and Palestine is free.”

The hackers use a relatively simply method of shutting down websites, by inviting thousands of supporters to download and run a program aimed at overloading the site, which then becomes inaccessible for legitimate users, Orlov explained. Although it causes brief inconvenience, it rarely poses a real security threat.

This is not the first time the #OpIsrael campaign has attempted to wreak havoc on Israeli cyberspace. Yesterday’s operation came on the one-year anniversary after Anonymous engaged in a nearly identical campaign that also received widespread attention.

Anonymous claimed that the April 7, 2013 #OpIsrael campaign successfully shut down hundreds of Israeli websites, including the websites of the office of the Prime Minister, Shin Bet, and the Defense Ministry. They also allegedly published online Israeli credit card and other personal financial information.

Israeli officials denied these claims, saying that, despite the media fanfare, Anonymous’ cyber onslaught caused no real damage to Israel’s cybersecurity.

The first time Anonymous carried out the #OpIsrael campaign was in November of 2012 during Israel’s military incursion into the Gaza Strip, as retaliation for the killing of a Hamas leader and the subsequent bombardment of the Gaza Strip.

Reports of the successfulness of the 2012 attacks varied from dozens to hundreds of Israeli websites that were breached, with some Anonymous members claiming they managed to shut down the Defense Ministry and Prime Minister websites.

Anonymous also hacked into multiple social media accounts during the 2012 campaign, including taking over the Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom’s Twitter account and tweeting pro-Palestinian messages such as END THE OCCUPATION, FREE PALESTINE and PALESTINE WE LOVE YOU.

Although Anonymous is often successful in attracting media attention to its various causes, such as the Steubenville rape case and the Aaron Schwartz sentencing decision, it is largely a disparate and loosely affiliated collective that rarely elicits a major security response.

“I do not think that the Israeli government takes these simplistic attacks seriously,” said Orlov. “What it hopefully does address seriously is the possibility of [more serious] attacks that deal a blow to critical infrastructure, such as the Iranian attack on Saudi Aramco, which rendered the firm completely inoperative. The growth in number and scale of such attacks is inevitable in the following years.”

Follow Olivia Becker on Twitter: @obecker928

Photo via Flickr