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Israel beats 'cyber-jihad' attacks

Ben Barber

Published 8/1/01

     Israel has warded off dozens of cyber-attacks on its government and
corporations since the
Palestinian uprising began last year, blazing a trail that could help
the United States develop defenses
for future electronic conflicts, terrorism experts and Israeli officials
     "Attacks have come from 19 countries, targeting 50 Israel
corporations and government Web
sites," said RAND analyst Bruce Hoffman. "Israel is developing
cutting-edge defenses against this."
     Israel's development of futuristic tactics in what one Israel
official called the newest "front" in
warfare recalls its battle-testing of American jets, tanks and missiles
against Soviet bloc weapons
during the 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israel wars.
     Terrorism experts from RAND and from iDefense, an Alexandria firm
advising the U.S.
government and industry, say Israel's experience in beating off
cyber-attacks will likely serve to
protect American government and industry against similar attacks.
     But the current Middle East conflict is also a proving ground for
groups intent on fouling up
America. "The cyber conflict is serving as a proof of concept for rebel,
terrorist, activist and other
disenfranchised groups around the world," said an iDefense report on the
Middle East conflict.
     As the Middle East cyber-war -- called by some Muslims an e-jihad
or cyber-jihad -- went on,
the world yesterday braced for an expected resurgence of a cyber-worm
programmed to reappear
last night.
     Despite Israel's effectiveness in fighting attacks, pro-Palestinian
hackers from Pakistan and many
other Muslim and even Western countries managed to deface several
Israeli and Jewish sites -- even
briefly forcing the closure of the Israeli foreign and defense ministry
Web sites. But efforts to shut
down Israel's airports, ports, banks and stock market all failed.
     "Israel is very aware of the phenomenon [of cyber-attacks] and is
taking steps to deal with it,"
said an Israeli Embassy official yesterday.
     Despite recent fears -- often the subject of novels -- that hackers
could cause airplanes to crash,
traffic lights to misfire and electric or water systems to go haywire,
the Israeli official said, "I've never
heard of a single successful cyber terrorist attack" against these
     The field is so new that terrorists are constantly seeking to get
around defenses and to learn how
they have been blocked from access to their targets, he said.
     He refused to detail any efforts to block cyber-terrorism but
acknowledged the issue "has come
up in U.S.-Israel counter-terrorism talks."
     "I would not say we are totally cyber terrorist proof, but we have
made efforts to protect our
virtual world," he added.
     Attacks against Israel began in earnest after the latest violence
between Palestinians and Israelis
began last September. Pro-Palestinian groups attacked 166 Israeli Web
sites in the next few months,
according to the iDefense report.
     Pro-Israeli groups -- which were the first to begin hacking --
meanwhile had targeted 34
Palestinian, Arab or extremist sites.
     The report cites attacks on the Palestinian Authority and sites in
seven countries: Iran, Israel,
Lebanon, Malaysia,, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and the United
     The targets include critical Web sites, e-commerce servers,
Internet relay chat servers, domain
name servers, Internet service provider infrastructure and file transfer
protocol sites, iDefense
     "The commercial sector is bearing the brunt of the pro-Palestinian
cyber assault," the report said.
The target industries have been technology, telecommunications,
fi-nance, media and health.
     Since the United States has often been the target of terrorist
attacks by Muslim groups angry at
U.S. support for Israel, Mr. Hoffman and the iDefense report focused in
on the threat of cyber-jihad
spreading to American targets.
     "If the United States came to become involved in activity in the
region which generates a
significant level of outrage in the Muslim community, there is a
distinct possibility that U.S.
government and commercial organizations will face cyber attacks much
like those hitting Israel
today," said the iDefense report.
     Attacks on the United States could be started in from 24 to 48
     One pro-Palestinian site actually distributed computer viruses such
as the Love Bug and Melissa,
which have infected millions of computers, but it admonished those who
downloaded those viruses to
use them only "on Jews and Israelis."

                 Copyright © 2001 News World Communications, Inc. All
rights reserved.

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Olivier Minkwitz________________________________________________
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Center on Transatlantic Foreign and Security Policy Studies
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