JERUSALEM, Israel — The Iran-backed Palestinian movement Hamas, the de facto rulers of the impoverished Gaza Strip, is stepping up its cyber activities against Israel. And it’s time for Western countries, including the United States, to take such threats more seriously, according to a report recently published by the Washington-based think tank, the Atlantic Council.
According to the report written by fellow non-resident Simon Handler, while the United States largely focuses its cybersecurity concerns on adversaries of the “Big Four” nation-states—China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea—non-state actors are becoming increasingly organized and efficient in cyberwarfare.
Hamas, a designated terrorist organization according to the United States, is a clear test case for what these groups are capable of and, as Handler writes, “is an emerging and capable cyber actor.”
Handler highlights how Hamas, which has fought numerous wars with Israel and carried out countless terrorist attacks against civilians, has not necessarily changed its overall goals – to end what it considers the illegitimate state of Israel and establish an Islamic Palestinian state on its territory. Makan – but now utilized the terrorist’s advanced, high-tech 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 policy community to think differently about how it treats similar non-state groups that might benefit from the cyber realm in the future.”
Brigadier General (Res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, a senior researcher at the Israel Defense and Security Forum, commented in an interview with Fox News Digital: “I think the United States and everyone else should be concerned because terrorists are using the Internet.” What Hamas does against Israel can be done by other terrorist groups and against other targets.
The report notes, “A strong online presence is essential to 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 for maintaining organizational relevance and survival.”
Kuperwasser, the former head of the IDF’s Military Intelligence Evaluation Division, said the world of electronic warfare offered terrorist groups the opportunity to cause widespread damage with minimal risk. He said Hamas had already carried out some “impressive” operations in the cyber realm.
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“They can cause real damage and in the end, out of many attempts, one can succeed,” he said. “[Israel] He has very good countermeasures, it’s an area where we excel. But in the Internet, when you’re on the receiving end, even if you can thwart many attempts against you, it’s not guaranteed.”
Israel has long claimed that Hamas’ cyber capabilities pose an increasingly serious threat. During an intense round of fighting with Hamas in May 2021, Israel drew global condemnation for destroying a tower in Gaza that housed the offices of the Associated Press and other media outlets. The IDF later said the 11-story al-Jalaa building also housed the Islamic Group’s electronic warfare site.
The Atlantic Council also gives an example of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia when Israeli soldiers watched matches on an app on their smartphones at an IDF base. Downloaded for free from the Google Play Store, the Android app, Golden Cup, was actually malware that secretly monitored the target’s device and stole sensitive information.
Prior to that, in 2017, Hamas used a series of fake Facebook accounts to contact young recruits in an effort to gain access to sensitive army information. Dozens of soldiers, mostly from combat units, were tricked into chatting with people they thought were young and attractive women in Israel and abroad, while Hamas accessed vital data on their phones.
“Hamas’ cyber capabilities have become increasingly sophisticated and expanded to target not only Israel but other countries it sees as hostile,” Joe Troesman, research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), told Fox News Digital. “Over the past decade or so, Hamas and other armed Palestinian organizations have recognized the cyber arena as an important area for armaments and have slowly developed sophisticated methods to counter Israel.”
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Last month, Hamas posted on its Telegram channel a tribute to the person it said set up the movement’s internet unit eight years ago. The Israeli i24 news channel stated in the announcement that it “keeps pace with scientific and technological development and innovates new methods in confronting the Zionist enemy (Israel)” throughout its “jihadi history”.
While the Atlantic Council report describes Hamas as a “green hat hacker,” a group relatively new to the hacking world and lacking in sophistication, it specifies that they are “fully committed to making an impact and eager to learn along the way.”
“Hamas has shown steady improvement in its cyber capabilities and operations over time, particularly in its espionage operations against internal and external targets,” the report said. “At the same time, the organization’s improvisation, deployment of relatively unsophisticated tools, and efforts to influence the masses are all hallmarks of terrorist strategies.”
Trozman said: “The electronic unit of Hamas, which was revealed recently does not pose a threat to Israel.” “There were indications in 2019 that the IDF recognized the IDF as a threat when it bombed a site in the Gaza Strip used by Hamas for cyber operations.
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He added that “one of the most troubling elements regarding Hamas’s capabilities is its ability to recruit spies in Israel for cyber operations,” referring to the recent incident in which three Israelis were caught passing amounts of sensitive data to Hamas in Turkey.