None of Israel’s vital online systems were compromised in the recent series of cyber-attacks on Israeli websites, Israel’s Shin Bet sources told Ynet news website on Monday as the Saudi hacker vowed “stronger” attacks.
The statements came after hackers disrupted online access to the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, El Al Airlines and three banks on Monday in what the government described as a cyber-offensive against Israel.
The attacks came just days after an unidentified hacker, proclaiming Palestinian sympathies, posted the details of thousands of Israeli credit card holders and other personal information on the Internet in a mass theft.
Stock trading and El Al flights operated normally despite the disruption, which occurred as Israeli media reported that pro-Palestinian hackers had threatened at the weekend to shut down the TASE stock exchange and airline Web sites.
The hackers, calling themselves ‘Nightmare’, have not been able to penetrate any of Israel's strategic infrastructure systems, such as the Water Authority, Israel Electric Co. and communication bodies, according to the Ynet report.
Unlike private websites or even those used by credit card companies, vital infrastructure systems enjoy a higher level of encryption and protection. Strategic bodies are defined by the government and though each body is in charge of its own security, they are constantly monitored and guided by the Shin Bet, in an effort to thwart terror attacks – cyber and otherwise – and espionage attempts, the report explained.
Meanwhile, the Saudi hacker known as “0xOmar” vowed in an email sent to Israel’s Ynet news website on Monday that the cyber-attacks on Israel will only grow stronger.
“I want to hurt/harm Israel in any way possible. I can harm them in Cyber world so I would do anything for this world. I'll let Israeli authorities cry and suffer,” he told Ynet.
While apparently confined to areas causing only limited inconvenience, Monday attacks have caused particular alarm in a country that depends on high-tech systems for much of its defense against hostile neighbors. Officials insist, however, that they pose no immediate security threat.
“They have demanded an apology for Israel’s defensive measures,” Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said on his Facebook page, alluding to the conflict with Palestinians, according to Reuters.
“I am using this platform to send a clear message that ... they will not silence us on the Internet, or in any forum.”
The First International Bank of Israel (FIBI) and two subsidiary banks, Massad and Otzar Hahayal, said their marketing sites had been hacked but that sites providing online services to clients were unaffected.
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 Tel Aviv bourse website could only be accessed intermittently, but screen-based trading was not hit.
“There has been an attack by hackers on the access routes to the website,” said Orna Goren, deputy manager of the exchange’s marketing and communications unit. “The stock exchange's trading activities are operating normally.”
El Al said it had taken precautions to protect the company site and warned of possible disruptions to its online activity.
There was no claim of responsibility for Monday’s incidents.
Ynet reported that major banks and financial institutions in Israel are currently considering blocking online access for overseas users – a move First International Bank of Israel and Discount Bank have already applied. A banking system official was quoted as saying that such drastic measures were necessary, even at the expense of inconveniencing clients.
Minister of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Yuli Edelstein was quoted by Ynet as saying that "an escalation in cyber-attacks can become a real threat to Israel’s stability. The virtual war on Israel is a concrete threat to Israel’s security.”
“Today it’s hacking credit card companies and tomorrow it will be stealing security information and harming infrastructures. Some say that lending this too much importance is paranoia, but as we saw this morning – these are anti-Israel acts of violence and outright anti-Semitism that aim to destabilize Israel,” he said.
However, Minister of Improvement of Government Service Michael Eitan (Likud) attempted to downplay the seriousness of the situation by saying that there was no need to panic. “Israel’s strategic infrastructure was not harmed,” he was quoted as saying by Ynet.
“Israel is an advanced technological state and as such it may be more vulnerable to such attacks, which means that the government and State authorities tasked with maintaining information security for vital infrastructure must exercise extra caution.”
The Islamist group Hamas, which governs the small Palestinian territory of Gaza, welcomed the attacks as a blow against the Jewish state, which it refuses to recognize.
“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 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.”