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Hamas using WhatsApp to hack Israel soldiers

July 15, 2019 at 2:11 pm

Logos of WhatsApp and Google Drive applications are seen on a screen on 28 August 2018. [Ali Balıkçı/Anadolu Agency]

Hamas is using popular messaging service WhatsApp to hack soldiers in the Israeli army and gain access to Israeli military secrets.

According to a statement by an Israeli army spokesperson yesterday, Hamas members have been posing as Israeli soldiers in order to message army personnel and gain access to confidential information.

The spokesman gave an example of the messages sent to Israeli soldiers, one of which said: “Hey man, this is Yisrael from the 51st Battalion.” Several soldiers reported that they have received messages asking for information about their army unit’s training schedules and troop movements, Arutz Sheva reported.

The spokesperson said the Israeli army “is aware of the enemy’s activity and is following its efforts over social media. We call on all military and civilian personnel to act carefully and responsibly.”

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Hamas has developed its hacking capabilities as a way of combatting Israel’s 12-year-old siege of the Gaza Strip and repeated assaults on the coastal enclave.

In May, a webcast of the Eurovision Song Contest semi-final – which was being held in Tel Aviv at the time – was hacked with animated images of explosions in the coastal city. The stream was being hosted by Israel’s public broadcaster Kan 11, but instead of streaming the popular music contest the channel broadcast messages such as “Warning: Risk of Missile Attack, Please Take Shelter” and “Israel is NOT Safe. You Will See!”

Kan’s CEO, Eldad Koblenz, told Israel’s Army Radio that Hamas appeared to be behind the cyberattack, a claim confirmed by the country’s National Cyber Directorate, which provides assistance and guidance on cyber defence issues.

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Israel has responded to Hamas’ increased hacking proficiency with force, earlier in May striking the Strip in apparent retaliation for a cyber-attack by the movement.

In a tweet on 5 May, the Israeli army claimed it had “thwarted an attempted Hamas cyber offensive against Israeli targets”. It continued: “Following our successful cyber defensive operation, we targeted a building where the Hamas cyber operatives work. HamasCyberHQ.exe has been removed”. The tweet also featured an image of the building which allegedly held the “CyberHQ”.

The assault represented the first known attack on a physical target in response to a cyber-attack. A spokesman for the Israeli army, Brigadier General Ronen Manlis, claimed that “after dealing with the cyber dimension, the [Israeli] Air Force dealt with it [Hamas] in the physical dimension,” adding that “at this point in time, Hamas has no cyber operational capabilities”.

Yesterday’s revelation, however, contradicts these claims. Hamas has also used other methods to gain intelligence on Israeli operations, including creating fake Facebook and dating profiles to hack Israeli soldiers’ phones.

In July 2018, Haaretz reported that Hamas had used online dating platforms and football World Cup apps to plant malicious software into Android smartphones, enabling the movement’s members to access pictures, phone numbers and email addresses of soldiers posted close to the Gaza fence.

The Israeli daily added that the software “even allowed Hamas to control the phones’ cameras and microphones remotely, [meaning] Hamas [had] been able to film what was happening on [Israeli army] bases without the soldiers being aware their phones had been hacked”.

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