Anonymous cyberattack on Israel finds disputed impact

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

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.

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"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 OpIsreal.com 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: emessmer@nww.com.

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