JERUSALEM, Israel – Hamas, the Iranian-backed Palestinian terror group that de facto rules the impoverished Gaza Strip, is stepping up its cyber activities against Israel. And it’s time for Western nations, including the United States, to take such threats more seriously, according to a recently released report by the Washington-based think tank, the Atlantic Council.
According to the report written by fellow non-resident Simon Handler, while the United States overwhelmingly focuses its cybersecurity concerns on the “big four” nation-state adversaries – China, Russia, Iran and North Korea – non-state actors are becoming increasingly organized and efficient in cyber warfare.
Hamas, a designated terrorist organization according to the United States, is a clear test case for what such groups are capable of and, Handler writes, “is an emerging and capable cyber actor.”
Handler points out that Hamas, which has fought numerous wars with Israel and carried out countless terrorist attacks against its civilians, has not necessarily shifted its overall goals: to end what it considers the illegitimate state of Israel and establish an Islamic Palestinian state in its place, but now he has made use of advanced high-tech terror options in his fight.
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“In other words, offensive cyber operations are a new way for Hamas to do the old things better,” the report notes, urging “the political community to think differently about how it approaches similar non-state groups that could exploit the computing domain in the future.”
“I think the United States and everyone else should be concerned because terrorists are using the Internet,” Brigadier General Yossi Kupperwasser, a senior research scientist 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 robust online presence is essential for modern terrorist organizations. They rely on the Internet to recruit members, fund operations, indoctrinate target audiences, and attract attention on a global scale – all key functions to maintain organizational relevance and to survive. “
Kupperwasser, a former head of the Israeli military’s military intelligence evaluation division, said the realm of cyber warfare has afforded terrorist groups an opportunity to cause extensive 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 cause real damage, and ultimately, 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 cyber, when you’re on the receiving end, even if you can thwart a lot of attempts against you, it’s not foolproof.”
Israel has long argued that Hamas’ cyber capabilities pose an increasingly serious threat. During an intense round of fighting with Hamas in May 2021, Israel won global condemnation for destroying a tower block in Gaza that housed the offices of the Associated Press and other media outlets. The Israeli military later claimed that the 11-story al-Jalaa building also housed the Islamist terrorist group’s electronic warfare site.
The Atlantic Council also gives the example of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, when Israeli soldiers watched matches on an app on their smartphones at an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) base. The Android app, Golden Cup, downloaded free from the Google Play Store, was, in fact, malware that discreetly monitored the target’s device and stole sensitive information.
Previously, in 2017, Hamas had 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 duped into chatting with people they believed were attractive young women in Israel and abroad, while Hamas accessed vital data on their phones.
“Hamas’ cyber capabilities have become increasingly sophisticated and have expanded to target not just Israel, but other countries it considers hostile,” Joe Truzman, a research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Fox News Digital. (FDD). “Over the past decade or so, Hamas and other Palestinian militant organizations have recognized the cyber arena as an important field to weaponize 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 set up 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 of dealing with the Zionist enemy (Israel)” over its “jihadist history,” Israeli news channel i24 reported. .
While the Atlantic Council’s report calls Hamas “a green hat hacker,” a relatively new group to the hacker world lacking in sophistication, it determines that they are “fully committed to making an impact and eager to learn along the way.”
“Hamas has demonstrated 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, improvisation of organization, deployment of relatively unsophisticated tools, and efforts to influence the public are all hallmarks of terrorist strategies.”
“Hamas’ recently unveiled cyber unit poses a threat to Israel,” Truzman said. “In 2019 there were signs 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 troubling elements of Hamas’ 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.