Hacktivism and Disinformation Add Complex Layers To Israel-Hamas War
Researchers Highlight Ongoing Cyber Tactics
The following is part of an ongoing series of research reports on the escalating cyber attacks in the Israel-Hamas war.
A WhatsApp voice memo claiming insider information regarding an imminent attack spread like wildfire across Israel, causing panic among citizens, The Washington Post reported on October 14. However, the Israeli army later clarified that the message was false. This followed in the same pattern as reports from The Wall Street Journal that Israel was seeing an elevated series of “cyber incursions” across its many digital systems.
This incident highlights the increasing role of social media in shaping public perception during the ongoing conflict between Israel and Gaza. Social media platforms have played a crucial role in previous clashes, but this time, a volatile political climate and a lack of platform moderation have allowed conspiracy theories and false information to spread within Israel.
Overt Operator's independent researchers found evidence of growing hacktivism across a variety of social networks. In keeping with the trend, these hacktivists operated in part with Anonymous Sudan.
Overt Operator researchers discovered that hackers had been using social media to accuse other hacker groups internationally. The hacking groups have been involved since the outset of the war. On October 7, research revealed that Anonymous Sudan had targeted Israel’s emergency alert systems:
For example, a social media message was discovered where the Cyber Operations Alliance, also known as the C.O.A. agency, had pledged to attack a hacking group out of India for allegedly “attacking” Palestine, as part of efforts by the hacker group to support Palestine through cyber operations. This attack was seen to be a direct response to an attack from an India-based hacker group that had targeted Palestine’s transportation ministry.
International hacktivist actors attempted to breach systems around the world that they felt supported Israel and Jews, or the “Zionist entity”’ as they referred to it. These attacks had general applications, the T.Y.G. hacking team stated. Some of these attacks launched against foreign transportation services, including that of Saudi Arabia, while also coming down on Israel’s transportation.
The Yemen-based hacking group Team R70 targeted John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City, New York because it was the airport in the United States that received the “Zionist entity” the “most” the group claimed to its social followers.
In addition to the international efforts to cut off the so-called “Zionist entity” the hacker groups promoted their cooperative political agendas. Researchers discovered evidence that AnonymousSudan was supporting a Russian political agenda through its attacks:
Global hacktivist groups continue to build on a pattern of hacking, Overt Operator researchers discovered. On October 12, hackers noted the need to return to a series of attack measures that were used in April of this year.
Centric to Israel, Islamic-affiliated networks targeted systems such as security cameras in an attempt to thwart Israel’s internal response.
Hacker entities also targeted Israeli police departments. A list of hackers cooperated to take down Israel’s police website, in an effort to disrupt ground response forces. These hackers appeared to be associated with entities across North Africa, East Asia through Jakarta, Indonesia and Hezbollah.
Hackers also deliberately targeted Israel’s infrastructure in hopes of what they described as a “surprise” or creating further disruptions:
Hackers played on two fronts exercising activities on the offensive against Israel, but also issuing warnings to protect Iran’s telecom network. Experts believe that, while Iran may not have had direct involvement in planning Hamas’ land incursion into Israel, the government of Iran would have been “complicit” in the ideology that led to the attacks.
“Hamas reportedly receives much of its funding, weapons, and training from Iran. The Biden Administration has stated publicly that it does not have evidence that the Iranian government had a planning role. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan has described Iran as “complicit in this attack in a broad sense” given the level of support it has provided Hamas for years,” the Congressional Research Service wrote, in a frequently asked questions informational release on the Israel-Hamas October war.
Social Media's Role in Past Conflicts
During the 2021 war between Israel and Hamas, social media played a pivotal role in rallying support for the Palestinian cause. Widespread internet access and the proliferation of smartphones allowed the dissemination of images depicting the horrors and human toll of the conflict. It marked a turning point in demonstrating the power of tech platforms to showcase the reality of such events.
The Current Landscape
The ongoing fight over Israel's democratic future has created a highly charged atmosphere, priming the spread of conspiracies and misinformation within the country. Diminished platform moderation due to layoffs has further exacerbated the issue. Additionally, Gaza's electricity outages and telecommunications infrastructure strikes have disrupted Palestinians' connectivity, exacerbating the spread of misinformation.
The Challenge of Assessing Reality
The constant barrage of images, memes, and testimonials flooding social media platforms makes it increasingly difficult to discern fact from fiction. Viral horror stories gain traction, further fueling panic and shaping public opinion. Activists in the region stress the need for critical thinking and verifying sources to counteract the spread of misinformation.
Consequences of the Fog of War
The impact of misinformation during wartime extends beyond public perception. Misinformation can lead to panic buying, like the rush to banks and grocery stores in response to the false voice memo. Such actions strain essential services and disrupt everyday life.
Moreover, false information can also damage diplomatic relations and exacerbate tensions between conflicting parties.
As the conflict continues, it is crucial to navigate social media with caution, seeking reliable sources and verifying information to gain a more accurate understanding of the situation.