Hamas cyberterrorism is a test case for other non-state actors, report says

JERUSALEM, Israel – supported by Iran Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, the de facto rulers of the impoverished Gaza Strip, are stepping up their cyber activities against Israel. And it’s time for Western countries, including the US, to take such threats more seriously, a report recently released by the Atlantic Council’s Washington-based think tank found.

While the U.S. is overwhelmingly focusing its cybersecurity concerns on the Big Four adversaries of nation-states China, according to a report by non-resident researcher Simon Handler, Russia, Iran and North Korea – non-state actors are becoming more organized and effective in cyber warfare.

Hamas, designated a terrorist organization by the United States, is a prime example of what such groups are capable of and, writes Handler, “is a new and capable cyber actor.”

Handler emphasizes how Hamas, which fought numerous wars with Israel and has carried out countless terrorist attacks against its civilian population, has not necessarily changed its overall goals – to eliminate what it considers the illegitimate state of Israel and create an Islamic Palestinian state in its place – but now uses advanced high-tech terror. options in your fight.

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Israel says the cyber warfare arm of the terrorist group Hamas poses a growing threat to the country.

Israel says the cyber warfare arm of the terrorist group Hamas poses a growing threat to the country.
(REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Files)

“In other words, offensive cyber operations are a new way for Hamas to improve old cases,” the report notes, urging “the political community to take a different approach to how it approaches similar non-state groups that may use the cybersphere in the future.”

“I think the US and everyone else should be concerned that terrorists are using the Internet,” Brigadier General (retired) Yossi Kupperwasser, senior fellow at the Israel Defense and Security Forum, commented in an interview with Fox News Digital. “What Hamas is doing against Israel can be done by other terrorist groups and against other targets.”

The report notes that “a robust online presence is essential for modern terrorist organizations. They rely on the Internet to recruit members, fund operations, educate target audiences, and generate attention on a global scale—all key to maintaining organizational value and survival.”

Kupperwasser, a former head of the Israeli Army’s Defense Intelligence Evaluation Department, said the cyber warfare realm gives terrorist groups the ability to inflict significant damage with minimal risk. And, according to him, Hamas has already carried out some “very impressive” operations in cyberspace.

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Palestinian Hamas fighters during a rally marking the anniversary of the Hamas terrorist group in Gaza City, Gaza.

Palestinian Hamas fighters during a rally marking the anniversary of the Hamas terrorist group in Gaza City, Gaza.
(AP)

“They can do real damage, and in the end, out of many attempts, one of them may be successful,” he said. “[Israel] has very good countermeasures, this is an area in which we excel. But in cyberspace, when you’re on the receiving end, even if you manage to prevent a lot of assassination attempts against you, it’s not reliable.”

Israel has long said that Hamas cyber capabilities are an increasingly serious threat. During heavy fighting with Hamas in May 2021, Israel drew widespread condemnation for the destruction of an apartment building in Gaza that housed the offices of the Associated Press and other media outlets. The Israeli military later said that the 11-story al-Jalaa building also housed an electronic warfare facility for an Islamist terrorist group.

The Atlantic Council also cites 2018 as an example. Soccer World Cup in Russia, when Israeli soldiers watched matches on an app on their smartphones at an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) base. The Golden Cup Android app, downloaded for free from the Google Play Store, was actually malware that silently tracked the victim’s device and stole sensitive information.

Prior to this, in 2017, Hamas used a series of fake Facebook accounts to contact young recruits in an attempt to gain access to confidential army information. Dozens of soldiers, mostly from combat units, were tricked into talking to people they thought were young attractive women in Israel and abroad while Hamas accessed vital data on their phones.

“Hamas cyber capabilities are becoming more sophisticated and expanding to target not only Israel, but other countries it considers hostile,” Joe Truzman, an analyst with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), told Fox News Digital. “Over the past decade or so, Hamas and other Palestinian militant organizations have recognized cyberspace as an important weaponization field and have gradually developed sophisticated methods to counter Israel.”

Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip.
(Mahmood Hams/AFP via Getty Images)

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Last month, on its Telegram channel, Hamas posted a tribute to the man it says created the group’s cyber unit eight years ago. In a statement, the group said it has “keeps pace with scientific and technological developments and invents new methods to counter the Zionist enemy (Israel)” throughout its “Jihadist history,” Israeli news channel i24 reported.

While the Atlantic Council report calls Hamas a “green hacker”, a group relatively new to the hacker world and lacking experience, it defines it as “fully committed to making an impact and eager to learn along the way.”

“Hamas has shown continuous improvement in its cyber capabilities and operations over time, especially in its spying operations against internal and external targets,” the report said. “At the same time, the improvisation of the organization, the use of relatively simple tools and attempts to influence the audience are all signs of terrorist strategies.”

“The recently exposed Hamas cyber unit is indeed a threat to Israel,” Truzman said. “In 2019, there were indications that the Israel Defense Forces recognized him as a threat when they bombed a facility in Gaza Strip used by Hamas for cyber operations.

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“One of the most troubling elements of Hamas’ capabilities is its ability to recruit spies in Israel to conduct cyber operations,” he added, highlighting a recent incident in which three Israelis were caught transferring volumes of confidential data to Hamas in Turkey.