Israel-Hamas war rages in cyberspace

Israel blocks Hamas on Twitter, accuses the Palestinian group of targeting Israelis in dating and World Cup apps.
Wednesday 04/07/2018
People holding mobile phones are silhouetted against a backdrop projected with the Twitter logo in an illustration picture. (Reuters)
People holding mobile phones are silhouetted against a backdrop projected with the Twitter logo in an illustration picture. (Reuters)

LONDON – Israel has stepped up measures it says are to counter cyber threats posed by the Palestinian movement Hamas.

Israel’s Public Security and Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan asked Twitter to block some 40 Hamas and Hezbollah accounts from being accessed in Israel.

In a letter to the social media network’s CEO and executive chairman, Erdan accused Twitter of being “largely irresponsive to requests by the Israeli authorities to remove terrorist content and shut down terrorist accounts.”

Erdan threatened legal action if they were not removed. 

Two weeks later, Twitter made 35 Hamas and Hezbollah accounts inaccessible to users inside Israel. 

“@HamasInfoEn’s account has been withheld in Israel in response to a legal demand,” one Hamas account read from Israel. 

Outside Israel, users were met with a warning from Twitter:  “Caution: This profile may include potentially sensitive content.”

Fake dating apps

Separately, the Israeli military said it had uncovered a plot by Hamas to spy on soldiers by befriending them on social media and then luring them into downloading fake dating applications that gave Hamas access to their smartphones.

A senior Israeli intelligence officer said Hamas initially reached out to the soldiers through Facebook, often posing as young women, and then moved the relationship over to the WhatsApp texting service. Following dozens of reports from soldiers receiving unusual messages, the military launched operation “Broken Heart.”

The military said it had uncovered three Hamas-operated apps on Google Play that had been downloaded about 100 times by soldiers since the beginning of the year.

The officer, speaking on condition of anonymity under military regulations, said the Hamas cyber efforts to snoop on soldiers were nothing new. But its methods of infecting phones with malicious applications were a significant upgrade since they could seize control of a phone’s contents, potentially acquiring classified information or compromising images that could be used to blackmail soldiers.

The military said the first two apps were called Glancelove and Winkchat, supposed dating apps.

The photos belonged to real women whose photos and personal details were stolen from their Facebook profiles. Some were scantily clad and kissing each other. Conversations were conducted in everyday Hebrew from Israeli mobile numbers and the military said those operating the accounts were not necessarily based in Gaza.

The military said the Hamas efforts signaled a bold new step by its expanding cyber division.

World Cup app

Israeli military intelligence also accused Hamas hackers of creating a World Cup app to tempt soldiers into downloading spyware onto their phones.

Hamas allegedly used the bait of World Cup action with an app offering “HD live streaming of games, summaries and live updates”.

“What Hamas is bringing to the table is a very good knowledge of our young people and their state of mind,” an Israeli officer said.

The “Golden Cup” app was set up last month as the World Cup soccer championship kicked off in Russia, the Israeli officers said. “It was actually a very good one, giving you the game results,” said one of the officers, who under military secrecy rules requested anonymity.

The officers said Hamas operatives, using false identities, contacted soldiers on social media and encouraged them to download the apps to their private smart phones.

Fewer than 100 soldiers did so, and were located either by self-reporting or after military security analysts tracked them down, the officers said. “We know of no damage that was done,” one of the officers said.

(The Arab Weekly staff and news agencies)