Gaza hackers prepare for next assault on Israel

A group of Palestinian hackers in Gaza talk to Al-Monitor about their cyberwar against Israel.

al-monitor A Palestinian man in Gaza City looks at the Facebook page of Avichay Adraee, the spokesman of the Israeli army to the Arabic media, after hackers targeted him during the OpIsrael campaign launched by the activist group Anonymous, April 7, 2013.  Photo by SAID KHATIB/AFP/Getty Images.

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youth, israeli-palestinian conflict, israel, internet, hamas, gaza strip, cyber war, blockade

Feb 20, 2014

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Hacking Israeli websites from the Gaza Strip is a raging front in a war where soldiers are trained in the art of hacking individually and collectively. They are preparing to fight the next battle globally, united in a virtual world with other hackers around the world to deliver a message that the siege on Gaza must end.

The electronic conflict between Palestinian hackers and Israel is growing, after the success of the largest unified hacking operation against Israel launched on April 7, 2013. The goal of the attack, dubbed OpIsrael, was that of “wiping Israel off the Internet.”

This Al-Monitor correspondent met with a hacker group focused on penetrating Israeli websites and responsible for some of OpIsrael's breakthroughs. The hackers hid their faces behind Palestinian scarves instead of the mask of the well-known Anonymous hacking group, because the mask is unavailable in the markets of besieged Gaza City.

Spider Seeker, Site Killer, Dark Coder, the Shadow of the Ghost and the leader of the group, Prince, are pseudonyms for the five members of the group Pal Anonymous, who range in age from 20 to 30 years. They called themselves “resistance hackers.” 

Professional hackers in Gaza have only three options: to be moral, resistant or material hackers, who try to steal others’ information or money in light of the weakness of government oversight and the poor quality of university education in this kind of technology.

Each member of Pal Anonymous has a specialty, and they all work under the guidance of the leader. Spider Seeker is responsible for collecting information on the targeted sites. He said he focuses on Israeli government, business and trade union sites. Dark Coder is a software specialist responsible for the scripts, or programs, that automatically run a set of operations.

Site Killer's job is to remove a site’s shell, which involves lifting the script that controls all the websites on a server. The Shadow of the Ghost is responsible for SQL injection to extract the database columns to learn the website’s main username and password. Prince, the leader, provides security and protection in addition to allocating tasks to the group members.

The hackers said they conducted OpIsrael to penetrate a number of Israeli websites, including those of the Kadima Party, the Israeli stock exchange, the Bank of Jerusalem and Israel Trade, which has reprogrammed its site to better protect it against hacking.

“We are in electronic warfare every day. We penetrate Israeli websites every day, and the time it takes depends on the difficulty of [hacking] the site. We are also preparing for the next simultaneous attack, which has not yet been scheduled,” said Prince. “We have penetrated many government and personal sites, as well as bank accounts stored on websites. That helped us buy many online services.” 

Prince explained, however, that their aim was not material gain. Rather, he said, "We use that information to buy programs that provide protection for members of the group to avoid being tracked. These programs work by changing our position on the Internet whereby we appear to be present in another country or changing the device number that appears on the Internet and the domain name.”

Site Killer responded to Al-Monitor’s question about whether the group can rely on information circulating on social media sites or other sites that carry different names, such as Hacker Gaza. He began by saying, “Confidentiality is the foundation of our work … ” before the Shadow of the Ghost interrupted him, asserting, “We depend on ourselves to get to the sources of information, not only on external sources. All sites on the network under the name of Hacker Gaza may be partisan or amateur, or designed to lure us, so we don’t trust them.”

The team’s leader noted both internal and external risks. “We are afraid of being tracked by Israeli intelligence or falling into the so-called trap whereby the opposite side opens ports to facilitate the penetration of websites as a trap to determine the details of where we are located.”

The bigger risk, however, is being arrested by the Hamas government, according to Prince, as they are suspected whenever websites affiliated in one way or another with the government in Gaza get hacked. He noted that other hackers have been arrested.

The official spokesman for the Interior Ministry, Maj. Islam Shahwan, denied in an interview with Al-Monitor that hackers had been arrested, especially those who have broken into Israeli websites. He stressed that the position of the government in Gaza is to support this kind of action.

“We, as the Ministry of Interior, after the hacking attack, issued a statement making clear that we support this approach, and we were the ones who called for an 'electronic resistance.' … We are ready to provide any cover that confuses the enemy by technological means,” Shahwan said.

Shahwan also said that the Interior Ministry's website had been penetrated by a hacker who was identified and arrested by what he called the “security and legal reserve,” whose job is to protect government and other websites from attack.

Electronic warfare is ongoing not only against Israel but also between the Palestinian factions, which exist in a state of internal political division. Each party has hackers working on penetrating the other party’s websites.

“There are hackers belonging to Fatah targeting Hamas and vice versa. Even the Fatah movement is divided, so there are hackers who support either President Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] or [Mohammed] Dahlan, and there’s an electronic confrontation between the two sides,” said the group leader.

Ashraf Yazouri, a training specialist in advanced information and communication technology, told Al-Monitor that the appetite for learning the basic hacking tools has significantly risen since 2006. Yazouri, who is also director of a training center for the so-called moral hackers in Gaza, said the Israeli blockade, now in its seventh year, has not prevented the development of hackers’ abilities, although it has declined relative to that of global hackers.

He claims that hackers in Gaza are of two types — moral or unethical. Yazouri described the groups that break into Israeli websites as unethical hackers, because they do not adhere to the standards of using the ability to penetrate websites openly and legitimately and as declared by a contract between the two parties, according to him. Ahmad Boustan, a trainer who specializes in moral hacking, disagrees, contending that a breach is a legitimate method to defend and to attack.

The low standard of living for young people in Gaza, the group most eager to learn hacking, is one way to fall into the swamp of working for Israel, which monitors hackers and is trying to access their information to lure them or threaten them. Meanwhile, Prince and his group continue their work in preparation for the next major assault on Israeli websites.

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