Israeli Computer Hackers Foiled, Exposed
by Michael Gillespie
cyber warfare professionals targeted human rights and anti-war activists across the USA in late July and August
temporarily disrupting communications, harassing
hundreds of computer users, and annoying thousands
hackers targeted Stephen "Sami" Mashney, an Anaheim,
California, attorney active in the effort to raise awareness of the
plight of Palestinians.
found an alternate way to communicate through the
Internet," Mashney, a Palestinian-American, told the Washington
Report on Middle East Affairs, "and this attack
is backfiring on the hackers. Many people are
co-manages a popular pro-Palestinian e-mail list hosted by Yahoo! logged onto his Internet accounts on July 31
to find hundreds of e-mail messages from angry
Americans. He quickly realized that hackers had
appropriated or "spoofed" his e-mail addresses and identity and sent out a message titled "Down With the USA" in his name. The
message named and included contact information
for 16 well-known human rights activists and
falsely claimed the activists wished to be contacted by anyone desiring advice or assistance in fomenting and carrying out
anti-American, anti-Christian, or anti-Jewish
activities. In an obvious attempt to damage
Mashney's reputation, the hackers appended his name, law office telephone number, and website address to the spurious e-mail.
was looking up the telephone number of the local FBI office to report the hackers' crime, his phone rang. It was
the FBI calling, from Washington, with questions
about the forged e-mail message. Mashney later
met with FBI agents in California.
all their relevant questions," said Mashney, who notes that the hackers' attacks continued unabated for weeks and
expanded to include other new and innovative
methods of harassment that were used against many
other activists associated with Free Palestine and other public and
private e-mail lists.
A. Boyle, professor of International Law at the University of Illinois College of Law, is a human rights
activist who served on the board of Amnesty
International USA. A member of Free Palestine and other activist lists, Dr. Boyle was also targeted by
Israeli hackers who sent counterfeit e-mails in
his name. Again, the hackers' intention was to sow
confusion, provoke animosity, damage a reputation, and restrict
ability to communicate. When Boyle returned
from a vacation in mid August, he found 55,000
e-mails waiting for him. Like Mashney, Boyle spent days sorting through the messages, writing personal apologies to
those offended by the bogus e-mails, and
deleting thousands of bounced messages. Unflappable,
Boyle takes it all in stride.
keep the Irish down," wrote Boyle in an e-mail message to this reporter.
hackers also targeted Dr. Mazin Qumsiyeh, associate professor at the Yale University School of Medicine. The
hackers forwarded to some 1,500 members of the
Yale community e-mails that Qumsiyeh had sent to a
private list of activists. Many of his university colleagues were
annoyed, but Qumsiyeh, too, feels that the
hackers are doing the Zionist cause more harm
than good. Qumsiyeh said the hackers' efforts have generated new networking opportunities among activists and groups
who did not know of each other's existence
before the hackers targeted them.
Terazi is director of the New York office of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). Terazi's e-mail
privileges were yanked by Yahoo! for a time
after hackers "spoofed" her e-mail address and identity
to send a message to some 80 Yahoo! groups. Terazi, like Mashney,
spoke with the FBI about the new Israeli cyber
warfare tactics, which have piqued the interest
of Internet communications professionals. For a story
published August 23, Terazi wrote to Wired News reporter Noah
Shachtman, "While these e-mails are a nuisance,
offensive and intimidating, the FBI didn't find
anything illegal: There haven't been threats that rise to the level of a hate crime, no money has been stolen,
public safety has not been endangered and, as
far as we can tell, our computers have not been hacked or 'technically intruded into' as one agent put it."
The offensive messages are all protected by the
First Amendment, said Terazi.
August, the Israeli hackers had begun to target activists in Iowa, where it seems the Israeli hackers have
"technically intruded" into computers. It is
also likely their helpers here have forwarded addresses
from private lists to Israel. Iowa activists report that people
and organizations on their private e-mail lists:
family members, friends, acquaintances, media
contacts, government officials, interfaith relations
organizations, activists, and activist organizations suddenly found themselves receiving tens, hundreds, or thousands of
anti-Arab, anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian
"spam" e-mails per day. Many on private e-mail lists
reported receiving anti-Arafat cartoons and racist diatribes, along
with e-mail that aggressively connected to a web
site that took control of their computers,
turned the screen white, and made it necessary to shut down and re-start the computer. Some also reported that their
e-mail addresses had been "spoofed" and their
on-line identities appropriated for the
distribution of racist messages.
Yeaney, a Presbyterian campus minister who retired after serving at the University of Iowa, is active in
Friends of Sabeel, an ecumenical Christian
organization that supports the ministry of Sabeel, the
center for Palestinian Ecumenical Liberation Theology. He and his
wife, Sue, now serve as co-moderators for the
Middle East Peacemaking Group in Iowa. The
Yeaneys report that the hackers appropriated their address and sent out spurious e-mail in their names.
activist, author, and editor Betsy Mayfield, whose work has appeared in the Washington Report on Middle East
Affairs, was busy with plans for a mid-September
Des Moines film festival, "Boundaries: The Holy
Land," when the hackers turned their attentions to her computer.
women whose only association with the crisis in the Holy Land is their commitment to the Ames Interfaith
Council (AIC) reported being shocked by the
sudden appearance of pornographic e-mail and racist diatribes on their computer screens.
targeted many Iowans for harassment, and hundreds of others suffered varying degrees of inconvenience because
they were somehow connected to the cause of
peace and justice in the Middle East. Similar
scenarios played out in other states across the USA.
The scale of
the Israeli cyber warfare campaign, the number of targets, and the variety of techniques used, coupled with
specifically targeted intrusions
calculated to provide additional target addresses for the application of the hackers' various forms of
harassment, suggest a sophisticated,
coordinated, government-sponsored program designed to impact directly upon the communications abilities of the
human rights and pro-Palestinian anti-war
activism communities in the USA.
Israeli hackers "spoofed" the AIC's e-mail address, they invited a response they did not expect. Because the
AIC list was hosted by Iowa State University (ISU),
because the world's first electronic digital
computer was invented at ISU in a Physics Department laboratory in the
early 1940s, and because he has represented the
ISU Muslim Student's Association on the AIC
cabinet, ISU Physics Department computer administrator Dr. Bassam Shehadeh decided to
track the hackers down.
access the internet via an ISP called Palnet.com on the
West Bank," said Shehadeh.
Palnet.com did not respond to his repeated e-mail enquiries, Shehadeh called the company, informed their
representative that Palnet facilities were being
used to interfere with communications at a state
institution in the USA, and demanded an explanation. He provided information that enabled Palnet technicians to
identify the phone number of the customer
here is a victim but the hackers," said Shehadeh. "The
hackers use stolen identification to get access to Palnet."
said the contact line the hackers used for at least one
message to the AIC list address was an Israeli number in West
Jerusalem or one of the surrounding
settlements. A Palnet representative also told
Shehadeh the hackers have used several lines and methods to access
the hackers compromise another service system here in the USA by passing the e-mail message with Simple Mail
Transfer Protocol (SMTP), using HELO verb. The
hackers don't have a valid principal host but overcome
that by using a bracketed Internet Protocol number (IP address) at
a location anywhere on the web. Web hosting
servers tricked into transferring these e-mails
include Digital Cube, Inc., Verizon DSL Network, and Iowa Online Web Access located in Washington, Iowa," said
other computer professionals working in the USA report
that ISPs and companies with IP addresses are typically very
cooperative when notified that their equipment
is being misused. Most act promptly to end the
widespread and systematic destruction of electronic
communications facilities by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) in the
West Bank in recent months, the continued
existence of Palnet facilities suggests that the
Israeli government had reason to permit Palnet's continued operation and raises questions about the ability of
Palnet's owners to refuse service to Israeli
hackers or otherwise interfere with their
particular campaign in Israel's cyber war seemed to have been curtailed, at least temporarily, on August 29, soon
after Shehadeh tracked the hackers to the West
Bank ISP and, finally, to an Israeli phone number,
while other computer professionals in the USA, along with some of
the targeted activists themselves, quietly
contacted management representatives at various
IP addresses around the globe and notified them that their facilities were being abused.
Investigative Journalist and Commentator Michael Gillespie writes about
Politics and Media for Media Monitors Network (MMN). His work also appears
frequently in the popular Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
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