Analysis: Hamas 'honeypot' operation shows a sophisticated cyber-espionage unit

Espionage requires fewer and fewer agents in order to obtain intelligence. Instead, the intelligence can be produced through Facebook, Whatsapp, Twitter and more.

January 12, 2017 18:02
2 minute read.
Cyber hackers [illustrative]

Cyber hackers [illustrative]. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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The joint counter-espionage operation by IDF Military Intelligence and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) against Hamas that was cleared for publication on Wednesday has revealed that the Gaza terrorist organization is now equipped with a cyber unit that possesses considerable abilities.

This Hamas cyber unit has been aided by foreign experts in the field.

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Hamas’s efforts to gain access to IDF soldiers’ cellphones through seductive come-ons on social media, which went on for many months, bear witness to the great dangers to information security and national security posed by the Internet, smart phones, social networks and all forms of digital communication.

This is not a new phenomenon.

However, we are surprised anew each time we see how exposed we are and how easy it is to gain access to our secrets.

Once upon a time, the IDF’s Field Security unit launched a campaign titled, “The enemy is listening,” in order to increase awareness among soldiers not to run their mouths on communications networks, on telephones or in random street conversations.

The unit’s name has since been changed to Information Security and the technology has become more advanced: All manner of computers have been added, as well as smartphones, which serve not only as communications devices, but also as cameras, recording devices and more.

But the essence has not changed – loose lips can be a life or death matter.

Hamas’s efforts to penetrate IDF soldiers’ and officers’ phones was initiated in order to obtain information on IDF units, on training exercises, on operational plans and on weaponry.

They show how far the world of espionage has come and what changes it has undergone.

Espionage now requires fewer and fewer agents, who are very difficult to recruit, in order to obtain intelligence.

Instead, the intelligence can be produced through Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and more.

Hamas honeypots in cellphone hacking scheme (Credit: IDF)

Hamas intelligence officers have displayed great creativity.

They are penetrating social media networks and stealing the identities of users.

Mainly, they do so through stolen or invented identities of young women, who have attractive profile pictures.

Fortunately, the Information Security Unit and the Shin Bet uncovered the Hamas cyber operations and even succeeded in penetrating its networks in what the intelligence community calls “Doubling.”

However, we don’t know what we don’t know.

It must be taken into account that perhaps the counter-espionage and the cyber defenses of IDF Military Intelligence and the Shin Bet did not succeed in thwarting all of Hamas’s efforts.

And we must take into account the worst case scenario – that they succeeded in obtaining important and classified information, and Israel has no idea how much.

If Hamas, a relatively small military organization, has managed to run sophisticated cyber operations, one can only imagine what the much bigger Hezbollah and its state patron Iran are capable of achieving in this field.

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