JERUSALEM, Israel — The Iranian-backed Palestinian terror group Hamas, the de facto rulers of the impoverished Gaza Strip, is intensifying its cyber activities against Israel. And it’s time for Western nations, including the US, to take such threats more seriously, a recently released report by the Washington-based think tank Atlantic Council found.
According to the report written by non-resident colleague Simon Handler, while the US overwhelmingly focuses its cybersecurity concerns on the “big four” nation-state adversaries: China, Russia, Iran and North Korea, the actors Non-states are becoming more organized and efficient in cyber warfare.
Hamas, a designated terrorist organization according to the US, is a clear test case of what such groups are capable of and, Handler writes, “is an emerging and capable cyber actor.”
Handler points out how Hamas, which has waged numerous wars with Israel and carried out countless terror attacks against its civilians, has not necessarily changed its overall goals: ending what it views as the illegitimate state of Israel and establishing an Islamic Palestinian state in his territory. instead, it has now harnessed advanced, high-tech terrorism options in its fight.
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“In other words, offensive cyber operations are a new way for Hamas to do old things better,” the report said, urging “the political community to think differently about how it approaches similar non-state groups that may take advantage of the cyber domain in the future.”
“I think the US and everyone else should be concerned because terrorists are using the internet,” Brigadier General (Res.) Yossi Kupperwasser, a senior fellow at the Israel Defense and Security Forum, said in an interview with Fox News. Digital. “What Hamas does against Israel can be done by other terrorist groups and against other targets.”
The report notes that “a strong online presence is essential for modern terrorist organizations. They rely on the Internet to recruit members, fund operations, indoctrinate target audiences, and gain attention on a global scale, all key functions for maintaining organizational relevance and to survive. “
Kupperwasser, former head of the Israeli army’s Military Intelligence Assessment Division, said the cyberwarfare arena gives terror groups the opportunity to cause great damage with minimal risk. And, he said, Hamas had already carried out some “pretty impressive” operations in the cyber realm.
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“They can do real damage, and eventually, out of many attempts, one of them can be successful,” he said. “[Israel] it has very good countermeasures, it is an area in which we excel. But in cybernetics, when you’re on the receiving end, even if you manage to thwart a lot of attempts against you, it’s not foolproof.”
Israel has long claimed that Hamas’s cyber capabilities pose an increasingly serious threat. During an intense round of fighting with Hamas in May 2021, Israel received worldwide condemnation for destroying a tower in Gaza that housed the offices of The Associated Press and other outlets. The Israeli military later said the 11-story al-Jalaa building also housed the Islamist terror group’s electronic warfare site.
The Atlantic Council also gives the example of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia when Israeli soldiers watched the matches on an app on their smartphones at an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) base. The Android app, Golden Cup, which was downloaded for free from the Google Play store, was in fact malware that discreetly monitored the target’s device and stole confidential information.
Prior to that, in 2017, Hamas used a series of fake Facebook accounts to connect with young recruits in an attempt to gain access to sensitive army information. Dozens of soldiers, mostly from combat units, were tricked into conversing with people they believed to be attractive young women in Israel and abroad, while Hamas accessed vital data on their phones.
“Hamas’s cyber capabilities have become increasingly sophisticated and have expanded to attack not only Israel, but also other countries it considers hostile,” said Joe Truzman, a research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. (FDD), via Fox News Digital. “Over the past decade, Hamas and other Palestinian militant organizations have recognized the cyber arena as an important arena for arming and have slowly developed sophisticated methods to counter Israel.”
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Last month, on its Telegram channel, Hamas posted a tribute to the person it said had established the group’s cyber unit eight years ago. In the announcement, the group said it was “keeping pace with scientific and technological development and inventing new methods to confront the Zionist enemy (Israel)” throughout its “jihadist history,” Israeli news channel i24 reported.
While the Atlantic Council report calls Hamas “a green hat hacker,” a relatively new group to the hacking world that lacks sophistication, it finds that it is “fully committed to making an impact and eager to learn along the way.” “.
“Hamas has demonstrated a steady improvement in its cyber capabilities and operations over time, especially in its espionage operations against internal and external targets,” the report said. “At the same time, organizational improvisation, deployment of relatively unsophisticated tools, and efforts to influence audiences are all hallmarks of terrorist strategies.”
“The recently revealed Hamas cyber unit poses a threat against Israel,” Truzman said. “There were signs in 2019 that the Israel Defense Forces recognized it as a threat when they bombed a site in the Gaza Strip used by Hamas for cyber operations.
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“One of the most concerning elements of Hamas’s capabilities is its ability to recruit spies in Israel for cyber operations,” he added, highlighting a recent incident in which three Israelis were caught transferring volumes of sensitive data to Hamas in Turkey.