Israel vows retaliation against hackers

Filed Under: Data loss, Law & order

credit cardsFollowing the publishing of credit card details from thousands of Israeli citizens, the government vowed to retaliate against cyber-attackers the same way it would treat terrorists.

On Thursday, a hacker named OxOmar claimed to have leaked compromised credit details of some 400,000 Israeli citizens. A group of allegedly Saudi hackers calling themselves Group-XP says they stole the data from popular Israeli sports website.

According to news reports, credit card companies said the number is much lower - more like 6,000.

Group-XP claimed to have redirected visitors to a site where they could download the personal information.

According to a report from the BBC, there are reports of OxOmar being a 19-year-old living in Mexico.

The BBC claim an aide to Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told Reuters that Israel "was aware of the report OxOmar may be in Mexico, but had not yet requested help from the Mexican authorities".

The BBC quoted Mr Ayalon as saying that such a cyber-attack is "a breach of sovereignty comparable to a terrorist operation, and must be treated as such."

According to the report, he gave no details on what such retaliatory action would entail but went on to say that:

Israel has active capabilities for striking at those who are trying to harm it, and no agency or hacker will be immune from retaliatory action.

Israel has, of course, often been criticized for harsh anti-terrorism tactics.

Israel flagOne recent example was the Gaza Freedom Flotilla.

In May 2010, nine people were killed in a conflict between Israeli defense and a flotilla of boats that may have been purely concerned with Palestinian humanitarian relief or may, as Mr Ayalon said at the time, have been organized by groups with terrorist ties.

Here's what the deputy foreign minister said to The Guardian at the time:

The armada of hate and violence in support of the Hamas terror organisation was a premeditated and outrageous provocation. The organisers are well-known for their ties to global Jihad, al-Qaida and Hamas. They have a history of arms smuggling and deadly terror. On board the ship we found weapons that were prepared in advance and used against our forces. The organisers' intent was violent, their method was violent, and unfortunately, the results were violent.

The point being that when Israel says it will retaliate against cyber-attack as it does against terrorism, one assumes that the country's leadership doesn't rule out killing.

It is an increasingly dangerous time to be a cybercriminal.

In a parallel case of hackers vs. well-armed adversaries, it is also a dangerous time to be a hacktivist, as we saw when a Mexican drug cartel hired hackers to track down Anonymous bloggers, some of whom it then executed.

Would Israel do the same? Would it employ hackers to sniff out its cyber-attackers? Would it then kill them?

My guess would be that the country has already begun.

I can't cheer them on, because the soft, liberal part of my mind says, for God's sake.

It's just ones and zeroes.

It's just money.

What are your thoughts? Am I being a squishy, naive liberal, or overestimating the fatal meaning of Israel's vow?

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19 Responses to Israel vows retaliation against hackers

  1. Elad · 1326 days ago

    (Disclaimer: I'm a Israeli citizen)

    I don't that the Israeli government will kill people for hacking. I do believe they will retaliate in a more standard way – tracking down the hacker and sue him for damages.

    The comparison to the Gaza flotilla, where armed men attacked soldiers who were armed with paintball guns, badly hurting some and took some soldiers hostage, is a not a fair comparison. You could have chosen to compare it to the more recent event where hundreds of convicted terrorists were released in exchange for one soldier.

    What I'm saying is, that Israel won't kill anyone unless the circumstances require it.

    • Lisa Vaas · 1325 days ago

      I appreciate your input, Elad, and I'm sorry that I didn't pick a more recent, less extreme example. You're right, that would have illustrated a more measured response.

  2. todd · 1326 days ago

    I can only assume the Israeli government took the lead of the United States. The US recently unveiled it new policy "International policy for Cyberspace"

    "States have an inherent right to self-defense that may be triggered by certain aggressive acts in cyberspace,” says the policy. Indeed, such aggressive acts might compel a country like the US to act even when the hacking is targeted at an allied country.

    “Certain hostile acts conducted through cyberspace could compel actions under the commitments we have with our military treaty partners,” says the document. “When warranted, the United States will respond to hostile acts in cyberspace as we would any other threat to our country.”

    simply put hosting a hacker could get your data center bombed, no matter where they may be located. Disrupting the power to a hospital that costs a number of lives would be considered an overt act, and could be dealt with via military force. or in the immortal word of "Psycho" from the movie stripes "Touch my stuff, and I'll kill ya" seems clear and straight forward, allow hostile hacking, and we will go after the hacker and the infrastructure supporting them.

    • Lisa Vaas · 1325 days ago

      yes, indeed, USA retaliation against cyber-crime, if it's equated to how the country would respond to any national threat, would therefore be violent. Good point, good parallel. Thanks.

  3. RabbleRouser · 1326 days ago

    It will not help if they are attacking from a country which does not reciprocate. Countries like the Republic of Georgia are the origins of many of these cyber attacks.
    What if it's China? Does Israel really think that they are going to go after someone in another country?
    How do you sue someone if they are not physically in your country? You may be able to get an IP address, bu how can you prove that it is a single person, without access to the computer?

  4. had to say something · 1326 days ago

    Lisa Vaas , i must say that was one of the weirdest columns i have ever read.

    comparing the flotila incident to that hacker incident shows how little your understand ,the other reason is you must write something outrages to get ratings.

    just to clear something

    "The point being that when Israel says it will retaliate against cyber-attack as it does against terrorism, one assumes that the country's leadership doesn't rule out killing. "

    if that is really what you think, i really sorry for you.
    do not understand it.
    to answer your question , yes you are naive , being liberal has nothing to do with it.

    • Lisa Vaas · 1325 days ago

      OK, fair enough. I may have been unduly influenced by recently immersing myself in a dramatization of the 1960 Buenos Aires incident of covert Israeli agents nabbing Adolf Eichmann, the world's most wanted war criminal following WWII. I'm sure you'll all say that that too is an unfair, outrageous example of what Israel would do against cyber-attackers. I was curious, though, to know how you all would interpret the concept of retaliation. Sorry I went too far with the Flotilla thing, but I do appreciate readers' perspectives on this.

  5. Eileen · 1325 days ago

    Lisa, there were no "armed people" on the Gaza Flotilla. Theirs was a mission of peace. Hedy Epstein, a Holocaust survivor, was on those ships along with Colonel Ann Wright, a career military diplomat. It was 100% a humanitarian mission. The activists have video of the IDF acts of piracy on the Mavi Marmara, which happened in international waters. They have video of an unarmed teenager being shot at close range by the IDF as he lay on the deck on his stomach. This video had to be smuggled out because the IDF confiscated and never returned all electronics belonging to the passengers, but it saw daylight anyway.

    It is time that Israel began playing by the rules everyone else has to play by. What happened to the Gaza Flotilla was a war crime, pure and simple. I am sorry their site got hacked, but Israel is not making any friends with their continued belligerent attitude. And speaking of black hat hacking, everybody knows where Stuxnet and Duqu came from, get real.

  6. Tom · 1325 days ago

    This is slightly ridiculous to say that Israel will kill someone for hacking. Comparing to the Flotilla is even more ridiculous, specially since a UN report already stated that their intentions were not just humanitarian, but also violent.

    More to the point, I don't think the government of Israel will do anything in particular to punish 0x0mar, or anyone else involved, it is just jibber talk. However, I do believe we will start seeing Israeli hackers trying to do damage to Arab countries now. It might get interesting.

    • Lisa Vaas · 1325 days ago

      yeah, like I've said in earlier replies, I accept that the flotilla comparison was out of line. mea culpa. but I do agree: it will be very interesting to see what comprises retaliation.

  7. Enoch · 1325 days ago

    1. Cyber criminals hacked into Sport Website - fact.
    2. Credit Card details compromised (mostly Israeli) - fact & it is dis-heartening - author has no details on which other countries' CC details may be compromised.
    3. Israel will retaliate - reasonable (but speculation of violence is naive and biased at the same time, it cannot be ruled out. At the slightest inclination that Hackers' are helping or belong to extremist organization, I have no doubt about lethal force).
    4. Comparing flotilla-incident with hacking - that is just <fill in the blanks>.
    5. And see less-informed comments about 'what if, hacker was in different country' ;-) - well they/you may not get sued but a reciprocal attack is just a first step in 'retaliation' :P.

  8. Lisa Vaas · 1325 days ago

    2. no, I don't have details on what other countries CC details might have been compromised in this particular attack. I didn't pick up any data on that in the reports I read, but if you've seen something on that, please do let us know.

    4. OK, I accept that.

    5. a reciprocal attack? what would that comprise, exactly?

  9. MadAboutitAll · 1325 days ago

    if you have ever had your cc compromised or stolen you would understand the hell it puts the owner through. if the hack causes bodily harm then yes they should be tried accordingly as if they pulled the trigger. if it causes financial harm they should be tried as theives. either way they should pay dearly for their actions. and yes i believe strongly in capital punishment.

  10. John · 1325 days ago

    If the attack is bad and destroy their national security, killing would be a way to stop it. I'm sure other country use it. Iran would just said that a spy and condemn him to dead. USA would kidnap him and send it to Guantanamo. I don't think China would be nice neither, So I think Israel has the right to protect them self.

  11. Eileen · 1325 days ago

    Any "UN report" claiming that the intentions of the Gaza Flotilla were violent undoubtedly came from Israel. There were no weapons on board any of the ships.

    As a matter of fact the UN came very close to recognizing Palestine as a free and independent state as a result of the investigation into the Gaza Flotilla.

  12. Lisa Vaas · 1325 days ago

    Readers, I just want to apologize and thank you for your feedback. I was looking to explore the issue of what should constitute justice for cyber-attackers, but I obviously used a parallel that was inappropriate and managed to derail my original intent. I pledge to be much more careful and thoughtful the next time I delve into this or any other issue that touches on matters of national security, terrorism, and retaliation. Again, thanks for your critique.

  13. Enoch · 1324 days ago

    *5. Retaliation : For instance, if they could get the hands-on; the Israeli will leave the target bankrupt. Economically crippling someone (every penny matters) is a sure way, at-least to make a dent. But as in any case, the magnanimity will be in-line with the hacker's inclination (eg. terrorism or religious fundamentalism). But to think that there will be no response just because the hacker is geographically & politically in different spheres is a sure mistake hacker(s) will dare to make ;-) [someone though did so].

  14. One of the good guys · 1324 days ago

    Thank you Lisa for quote a thought provoking article.

    I think you are correct in your assumptions and shouldn't have to concede anything. Terrorist hacking is still terrorist activity. Israel are notorious for taking hard action against anyone attacking them or their people. Although sometimes questionable, their actions are sometimes required to restore the balance. Hackers are sitting happy out there in the belief that no harm can come to them. They destroy peoples lives, from the companies they hack to the people whose identities etc. that they steal. If they have a bit of the fear of death in them, then maybe they will think twice before persuing these interests.

    Another point is that some hacking organizations are part of and fund terrorist organizations. A such they are choosing to join the war and picking a side. If you are the water sanitizer or a general in the USDF, you are still a USDF. People die in wars. This is merely the natural progression of war into the cyber age.

  15. Asaf · 1324 days ago

    I actually think you were pretty spot on even though the flotilla compression was kinda out of touch. (Although I do believe Israel was at fault for being ill preperd not for the violence).

    A lot of countries and organizations are adopting those methods and it's happening for a reason (not that it's justified), the recent escalations in Cyberwarfare are forcing countries to develop their on Cyberwarfare divisions and in order to dishearten the enemy and discourage they are also taking the digital harm free world into reality and the very real possibility of paying the ultimate price for hacking.

    Agreed, some hacks are pranks or in solidarity with a cause. but where is the line drawn?
    Killing seems like too much and as an extreme measure but It was something that the literature around the issue and even sci-fi has been dabbling for years and it's only "reasonable" that it has come to that.

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.