'Unprecedented hack into law's holy of holies'

Further arrests expected in hack exposing highly sensitive information in Israel’s legal and law enforcement system.

September 13, 2012 19:24
2 minute read.
Cyber defense war room [llustrative]

Cyber defense war room 370. (photo credit: Reuters and Marc Israel Sellem)


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Further arrests are expected in an unprecedented hacking case that exposed some of the most sensitive information in Israel’s legal and law enforcement system, police confirmed on Thursday.

Police Superintendent Yaron Ben-Tzvi, head of the Israel Police Cyber Crimes Unit, told the Jerusalem Post on Thursday that in the coming week’s details would emerge describing to whom the hackers passed on the confidential court documents they accessed, and the effect such violations had on public security.

Ben-Tzvi said that in his 12 years on the beat he has never heard of a case this severe, which managed to penetrate to the heart of the Israeli legal system.

“This was an invasion into the holy of holies of the Israeli court system and the Israel police,” Ben-Tzvi said, clarifying that not only did the suspects have access to classified information dealing with court cases, but also police investigations that were under gag order.

On Monday police announced the arrest of chief suspect Moshe Halevy, 42, well-known as the blogger “Halemo”, as well as two other suspects, including former police fraud squad officer Boaz Guttman. 

Police believe the suspects engineered the penetration of the database of the Israel court system; accessing thousands of highly-sensitive documents not open to the public. Halevy has confessed to the allegations against him, but blamed the courts for having lax security, Ben-Tzvi said.

“If you have the ability to access a court case still under a gag order, or to open arrest and search and seizure warrants ahead of time, you can get that information to the right people, and tell them what police or the courts are looking for,” Ben-Tzvi said.

Ben-Tzvi said the hackers first broke into the court and police databases in 2008, and accessed thousands upon thousands of secret files since then. Police only managed to catch on to the breakthrough earlier this year, after details of a rape in the “Gan Hair” parking lot in Tel Aviv were leaked to the press despite a sweeping gag order on the case. Police realized something was amiss, and Ben-Tzvi and his team went to work.

A few months later investigators closed in on Halevy. Police knew that Halevy would be able to spy on the investigation and access the arrest warrant issued against him. Ben-Tzvi would not elaborate on this aspect of the case, but said that police took steps to pass on the arrest warrant without exposing it to Halevy’s eyes, knowing that he would be watching, and able to see any arrest warrant filed against him.

When asked if the courts had sufficient security on their database, Ben-Tzvi said “the courts had a firewall set up and a company that handled their online security, but like anything else online, with enough effort, time, and determination, someone can find a point of weakness and break in.”

“The public should know that at the moment you connect your computer to the internet, you take into account that someone can break into your computer.”

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