Anonymous hackers join cyber attack for Palestinian freedom

April 9, 2013
Sarah Benton

Reports from Christian Science Monitor, 1); Al Akhbar, with tweets and links, 2); Network World, 3).

Anonymous campaign in US against proposed laws against internet piracy. Photo from Russia Today

Cyber attack on Israel falls short of promised havoc

Hackers vowed that yesterday’s attack would be ‘the largest Internet battle in the history of mankind,’ waged in defense of freedom, not a particular political preference.

By Christa Case Bryant, Christian Science Monitor
April 08, 2013

JERUSALEM–A much-hyped cyber attack on Israeli websites yesterday caused some disruption, but fell well short of hackers’ promise to “wipe Israel off the map of the Internet” and certainly did not turn out to be the “largest Internet battle in the history of mankind.”

While so-called hactivists have increasingly used the prominent brand of Anonymous to threaten Israel, yesterday’s performance suggests that they don’t always have the means to make as big a splash in cyberspace as promised.

“Sometimes they’re just really not as good as they say they are,” says Guy Mizrachi, CEO of the Israeli data protection consultancy Cyberia, of the weekend attack. “It’s not a flop, but it’s far from taking Israel [off] the Internet.”

Various Anonymous channels broadcast word of the April 7 attack well in advance. Dubbed #opIsrael, it was billed as a continuation of a cyber campaign that started last fall during the conflict between Israel and Hamas-run Gaza. Typically Anonymous uses distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, in which certain websites are deliberately flooded with traffic, causing them to slow to a crawl or shut down altogether. Announcing such an attack ahead of time helps in marshaling the necessary forces from among Anonymous’s loose confederation of activists to carry it out.

Several Israeli government sites were reported to have been briefly shut down or defaced over the weekend, and an estimated 100 Israeli sites – many run by small businesses that haven’t invested in cybersecurity software – were also affected. In addition, hackers posted at least several thousand Israeli e-mail addresses and some credit card data, although it was unclear whether that personal information may have included some previously hacked data.

Freedom fighters?
Israeli officials and cybersecurity experts downplayed the impact of the April 7 #opIsrael attack, but many expect another assault in the future. Just how effective it is depends on who decides to join; the numerous activists operating under the anonymous label are relatively amorphous and have a range of skills.

In recent years, particularly since the wave of Arab revolts across the region in 2011, Anonymous activists have increasingly aligned themselves with Arab or Muslim interests or taken direct action against Israel.

Some say that shows an anti-Zionist bias. But Gregg Housh, a Boston-based activist associated with Anonymous, says it’s a reflection of the group’s commitment to freedom rather than a certain political leaning among fellow activists. Anonymous events, he says, will draw everyone from devout Republicans to left-leaning Roman Catholics.

“[Anonymous] doesn’t care what you believe, you can believe that a ground hog is your god and your holy land is the Empire State Building. They just want everyone to be free,” says Mr. Housh. “To a lot of people in Anonymous, they see what’s happening to the Palestinians as a form of oppression.”

In a statement published Nov. 19, 2012, during the conflict between Israel and Hamas, Anonymous described itself as “a world wide collective of individuals whose means pursue human rights, justice, and universal equality for the citizens of every nation,” it laid out its case for why Israeli policy in the Palestinian territories constitutes oppression.

“[Palestinians] have no navy, no army, or air force. There is no war in Gaza. There is only the continuous application of military force by Israel in an attempt to push every last person out of the Palestinian state, despite international laws that make these efforts illegal.”

The statement did not mention the thousands of rockets that Gaza militants were sending into Israel, which spiked after Israel’s assassination of a top Hamas leader Nov. 14 and subsequent eight-day campaign of air strikes.

Since Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in 2007, Israel has used a combination of military pressure and an economic blockade to check the power of Hamas, which has not recognized Israel’s right to exist and is considered a terrorist organization by Israel and the West.

Symmetrical warfare
Cyber attacks are perhaps seen by Arab and Muslim groups as one way to level the playing field with Israel, whose military superiority over its neighbors has long been established. But Israel, one of the top nations in the global field of cyber security, can play that game as well.

Yesterday, The Times of Israel reported, Israeli hackers brought down dozens of sites in Iran, Turkey, Indonesia, and North African countries, where the anti-Israel cyber attacks originated. In addition, the “Israeli Elite Hackers” claimed to bring down the websites of Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad for several hours.

Meanwhile, LulzSec hackers – who sometimes work in tandem with Anonymous initiatives – targeted Palestinian Authority websites. They claimed to obtain a gigabyte worth of documents.

“We r realy sorry for People of Palestine being fooled by scum that rules them,” read a message at the end of the announcement, accusing Palestinian leaders of conspiring with the US and Israel. “Wake up people of Palestine it’s not about your land or religion – its all about $…”

Anonymous launches cyber attack on Israel; major government websites down

By Al Akhbar
April  07, 2013

Dozens of Israeli websites were hacked in early hours Sunday, including pages of the prime minister’s office and the Tel Aviv stock exchange, in the largest cyber offensive yet against the Jewish state.

The operation is being dubbed #OpIsrael and is said to be led by hacker group Anonymous, which says it aims to wage hacking operations against human rights violators. Several official websites were covered in photos of long-term hunger striker Samer Issawi, deceased Palestinian prisoner Maysara Abu Hamdiyeh, and slain Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh.

The names and email addresses of some 1,500 Mossad agents have also reportedly been made public in a Google Doc.

The organizers said Sunday would be “the largest Internet battle in the history of mankind” that would eventually “wipe Israel off the map of the Internet” on April 7. Over 19,000 Israeli Facebook pages are reportedly down. Below [link here] is an Anonymous video warning of Sunday’s offensive.

Israel has staged incursions into some West Bank towns, such as Hebron, in recent hours, raiding houses and confiscating computers, according to pan-Arab network al-Mayadeen and several activists.

Israeli officials downplayed the attack, as Yitzhak Ben Israel, founder of the National Cyber Bureau, called the damaged caused by hackers “more or less non-existent.”

“The country was much better prepared than it was a year ago when there was a wave of attacks on the stock exchange and El Al (Airlines) and such sites,” Ben Israel said. “This time the attack is bigger in its scope and intensity, but we are better prepared.”

Anonymous first waged a cyber-attack on Israel in November 2012 during Israel’s vicious eight day assault on the Gaza Strip, targeting 700 websites.

The following tweet includes a list of sites whose hacking had been verified by anonymous. Al-Akhbar can confirm that the sites of ISS Congress, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office, the Tel Aviv stock exchange, the Defense Ministry, the Finance Ministry and several others were down at 2:30 AM local time Sunday.

#OpIsrael @Op_Israel

List of confirmed affected websites during #OpIsrael: … via @Crypt0nymous
9:40 PM – 06 Apr 13
List of confirmed affected websites during #OpIsrael
The following list includes lastest confirmed tango downs, hacks, defaces, docks, hijacks, database leaks & releases, delets out of the internet, admin takeovers etc. and these is only a little part…

سوسن @MadeInPali

One of the sites hacked by phenomenal #Anonymous #OPIsrael @Op_Israel #FreePalestine
12:15 AM – 07 Apr 13

Donkey @TerroristDonkey

PHOTO: Some of the Zionist websites that got hacked few minutes ago!look at them!! #OpIsrael
10:49 PM – 06 Apr 13

Mohammad Ashi @Moh_Ashi

” @iFalasteen:

This is the zionist yadoaat Haifa website right now. #OpIsrael #Anonymous” ”
11:20 PM – 06 Apr 13

Most of the websites were all back to normal by early afternoon Sunday, except for the Knesset’s website, which was not accessible.

Haaretz writer Anshel Pfeffer wrote that his newspaper received a suspected phishing email that appeared to be an attempt to hack the Israeli newspaper.

Anshel Pfeffer @AnshelPfeffer

Haaretz journalists just got what looks like a phishing email (from “HRW Iraq”). An attempt to hack us? Part of @YourAnonNews #OpIsrael?
12:23 AM – 07 Apr 13

Anonymous cyberattack on Israel finds disputed impact

Started April 7, Anonymous’ ‘Operation Israel’ supposed to ‘erase Israel from cyberspace’ but Israel seems unfazed

By Ellen Messmer, Network World
April 08, 2013

Although the hactivist group Anonymous had declared its supporters would attack Israel on April 7 and “erase Israel from cyberspace,” the damage from Anonymous so far appears to be minimal to Israeli government and bank websites that are among the main targets. However, now Israeli hactivists are fired up and counter-striking at Palestinian, Iranian and Turkish website targets.

From the point of view of the Israeli public, “this was not a successful attack from Anonymous,” says Ronen Kenig, director of security solutions at Radware, the Tel Aviv, Israel-based firm which makes equipment to fight denial-of-service attacks. The threat by Anonymous to totally wipe out Israel’s online presence failed. “They tried to take down major Israeli government and banking websites but it wasn’t successful at all,” he said.

However, Anonymous thinks otherwise.

“The effects are gigantic,” Anonymous said today in its response to questions, claiming its official estimate of damage so far includes hacking of 60,000 websites, 40,000 Facebook pages, 5,000 Twitter accounts and 30,000 Israeli bank accounts, “causing an estimated $3 billion in damage.”

The Anonymous response went on to say, “There is huge activism and resistance, even just counting the ‘non-violent’ parts of the movement – in the occupied territories. Any huge action, especially one done under such comradely manner as Op Israel, it is bound to be a very powerful symbol of hope to the Palestinians. This action proves to them they have the support of millions of intelligent people around the globe. That is a HUGE inspiration to those in their current position. Frankly that’s the primary motivator for me personally.”

Anonymous last Thursday announced its “Operation Israel” would start on April 7 to avenge what it says is gross mistreatment of Palestinians in the Gaza and West Bank and ongoing human-rights violations by Israel.

As it happens, April 7 was also Holocaust Memorial Day in Israel as a day of remembrance of the millions of Jews that were killed in World War II by the Nazis.

This isn’t the first time that Israel has been the declared target of the hactivist collective Anonymous, which managed to take down several Israeli government websites during a previous campaign back in 2011. This time around, however, the damage associated with the denial-of-service attacks that hit Israeli sites over the weekend was far less severe that previously, according to Radware’s Kenig.

“The hacker groups were probably not organized the way they wanted to be,” said Kenig. The volume of the DDoS attacks “were not significant at all.” He believes that Anonymous didn’t make use of automated botnets to launch attacks, which typically requires money. Anonymous declined to comment on this. Kenig also wonders whether Anonymous simply couldn’t drum up the enthusiasm from volunteers in its Operation Israel to wipe Israel off the cyberspace map.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz, which was also a target of the hackers, said in its report today that it has learned that only a few major websites in Israel were affected by Operation Israel, and then only briefly, including the Education Ministry and Israel Military Industries websites. Haaretz reported that although DDoS attacks were incoming at Israeli targets, mitigation efforts were proving generally successful. Fewer than 100 small websites and 15 large ones were affected for periods ranging from a few minutes to a few hours, it reported.

There was good preparation by the Israeli government and coordination with global ISPs to prepare for the Anonymous attacks, and this helped lessen the impact of the DDoS attacks considerably, says Kenig. “They know what attack tools they use,” he added.

Now, however, Israeli hackers are launching their own counterattacks, including the website of the online offensive, posting Israel’s national anthem on it, Haaretz reports. Kenig says some of these pro-Israeli attackers have ramped up the cyberconflict, going after online assets in Palestine, Iran and Turkey.

Ellen Messmer is senior editor at Network World, an IDG publication and website, where she covers news and technology trends related to information security. Twitter: @MessmerE. Email:

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