The disclosure of personal information of Mossad Director David Barnea on Wednesday will not harm the agency’s current chief because it was old and mostly irrelevant data, former Mossad director Danny Yatom said in response to the incident.
At the same time, Yatom warned that the incident shows that an increasing number of government officials who are not in the defense industry and might have less protection from hacking could soon be in the crosshairs of Israel’s enemies.
So far, it appears that “there was no harm because the material was old and not sensitive," he said. "But it is possible that in the future, hostile actors will succeed in obtaining information from the cell phones of senior officials – not from the Mossad [who may be better protected] – which could harm” Israel.
The photos and personal documents disclosing information on Barnea and his family, some of which were from an old cell phone of his wife, Roni, were leaked in a Telegram channel called "Open Hands."
Created hours before the leak was published to some 30 followers, the channel is reportedly linked to Iranian groups.
A video released in the leak claims the documents and photos shown are a product of an extensive surveillance campaign targeting Barnea.
According to the leakers, this campaign dates back to 2014, when Barnea was head of the Mossad’s Tzomet department, responsible for the activation of the agency's international agent network.
The surveillance campaign does not only target Barnea but several other senior Israeli officials in the defense establishment, Iranian Nour News reported.
Barnea was targeted along with other Mossad officials as a possible future head of the establishment, according to the report.
Some of the files shown in the leak include personal photos of Barnea with his family, plane tickets he purchased, tax documents and a satellite image of what is claimed to be his house, located in a city in central Israel.
One document shows a notice sent to Roni Barnea to pay a five-figure sum in tax debt. It said further information gathered on Barnea will be released soon.
The photos and documents shown in the Telegram group could not be authenticated, but the Prime Minister’s Office only denied that the documents came from a hack of Barnea himself and did not reject their authenticity.
Despite the sensational headlines, none of what was disclosed contained any current operational information, let alone any current information related to Barnea’s job itself.
Although those disclosing the Mossad chief's information claimed that the 2014 flight showed how long they have been watching him, it would be just as likely that they only targeted him more recently, but failed to get any current information.
In that case, the claim that they have been watching him since 2014 would be a cover for their inability to get more current information.
Likewise, the rest of the information was vague and information could be publicly obtained by hacking the files of airlines, tax authorities and others who may have interacted with Barnea and his family, without getting a hack of the Mossad chief himself.
Unlike Knesset MKs and ministers, some of whom are careful about cyber defense and some of who are not, there are set regulations in the defense establishment governing how senior officials use their electronic devices.
On the flip side, there have been numerous hacks of Israeli election data, insurance companies and other providers servicing the defense establishment which could have helped Iran and other adversaries dig up data on Barnea.
The disclosure comes as a likely fourth measure this week by Iran to strike back at Israel and the Mossad over the destruction of hundreds of Iranian drones reportedly by the spy agency and IDF intelligence in mid-February.
Earlier in the week, the Islamic Republic fired missiles at an alleged Mossad base in Erbil, Iraq, initiated a massive cyber attack on Israeli government websites and allegedly arrested a Mossad cell trying to carry out a sabotage operation against its Fordow nuclear facility.
The fact that Tehran waited around a month to respond to the destruction of hundreds of its drones in February also suggests a meticulously planned series of retaliatory moves.