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Hackers target Israel with millions of attacks as Hamas rockets continue to fall

  • anonymous protesters France.jpg

    Anonymous hackers, who use the Guy Fawkes mask as a symbol, have mounted millions of attacks against Israeli websites.AP Photo/Bob Edme

  • palestine.jpg

    Palestinians scramble after an air strike in Gaza City, where Israeli forces have launched attacks to counter a barrage of Hamas rockets.AP

Even as Israel fends off relentless rocket attacks from Gaza, government and private websites are under siege from hackers, who have mounted 44 million cyberattacks in less than a week, the government said.

The international hacker collective Anonymous, which has broken into websites of international banks, governments and even the CIA, said it mounted #OpIsrael to protest Israel’s “Operation Pillar of Defense” against rocket attacks launched from the Gaza Strip.

'The ministry's computer division will continue to block the millions of cyberattacks.'

- Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz

“The reasons for Anonymous intervention through #OpIsrael should be abundantly clear: What is happening in Palestine is oppression,” Anonymous declared. They have no navy, no army, or air force. There is no war in Gaza.”

Another web attack came Monday from a Pakistani group, which shut down the Israeli Groupon site. Visitors to the site found as expletive-laden screed against Israel and Jews. Groupon assured customers that no security breach occurred.

"The database and the transactions and users' information are hosted on Groupon servers secured in Germany," Groupon said in a statement. "It's important to stress that there is no link between the networks and ... no concerns about data security."

Only one of the millions of hacking attempts on Israeli government websites was successful, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz told The Jerusalem Post. But the sheer volume of tries demonstrates the stress being put on the country's web infrastructure. Steinitz did not name the site that was hacked, but said it was back up within minutes.

Sites related to the Defense Ministry, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Foreign Ministry have been targeted, as well as sites of local government and private businesses. Most sites that were successfully attacked were simply taken down, though many were left displaying pro-Palestinian images and messages. The Finance Ministry told the paper that there are typically a few hundred hacking attempts on Israeli sites per day.

"The ministry's computer division will continue to block the millions of cyberattacks," Steinitz said. "We are enjoying the fruits of our investment in recent years in developing computerized defense systems."

One site’s homepage was replaced with an image of a man wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh and the message: “This attack is in response to the injustice against the Palestinian people.”

Among the other targets were the websites of the Kadima Party, Bank of Jerusalem, a jeep tour company, a locksmith company, allbiz.co.il, fashion accessory companies and even a blog. One target Anonymous took credit for attempting to hack was the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s international development program, Mashav.

While it is not clear what other independent or affiliated hackers may be going after Israel, Anonymous put out a press release last week which blamed the Israeli government for the long-running strife with Palestinians.

“For far too long, Anonymous has stood by with the rest of the world and watched in despair the barbaric, brutal and despicable treatment of the Palestinian people in the so called ‘Occupied Territories’ by the Israel Defense Forces," the release said.

Unlike the Pakistani hackers, Anonymous sought to preempt accusations of anti-Semitism by noting that their campaign steered clear of bigoted language.

“Nor have we vocalized any support for Palestinian military operations or resistance groups,” Anonymous said in a statement. The attack’s goals, the statement continued, was to “protect the rights of the Palestinian people.”

Anonymous claimed to have taken down the municipal website of Tel Aviv, which has been posting directions to bomb shelters. But the site was back up at the time of this report.

Israel’s offensive to stop a daily barrage of Hamas rockets – some fired from launch sites adjacent to hospitals, schools and playgrounds – has been moving closer to an all-out ground war in recent days. Israeli planes, tanks and gunboats have pounded militant positions in Gaza, and Israel has authorized calling up reservists for what could be a pending ground invasion. Some 90 Palestinians, including senior leaders of Hamas, have reportedly been killed in Israeli airstrikes.

President Obama over the weekend said Israel has the right to defend itself, but expressed hope that the conflict would not escalate into a ground war. Egypt, under a Muslim Brotherhood government that has aligned itself with Hamas, has blasted Israel for the operation and pledged to help meet the "urgent needs" of Gaza residents. 

But Israeli officials say hundreds of Hamas rockets have been launched since the operation began, and scores have been intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system or fallen back onto Palestinian territory, at least three Israelis have been killed. The nation last week declared a state of emergency in the southern part of the country, telling residents to remain close to fortified areas.