by: MUHAMMAD ZUBAIR WARSAJI
Internet, a virtual space, is what we depend on every single day and has changed the way we communicate. It has not only provided ease of communication but has also opened a new frontier to fight battles and wars, since almost all mission critical government infrastructure are either directly connected or in some way could be indirectly reached through the Internet.
Cyber Crime, Cyber Hacktivism, Cyber Espionage and Cyberwar are not fictious, and in fact governments with high tech or nuclear weapons are afraid of a day when an individual, group or collective with a high technological skill set from a remote location unexpectedly ignite a nuclear war by just pressing a key on their keyboard. We have witnessed the Estonian Government in 2007 being paralyzed by Russian cyber attacks, or Syria whose air defense system was corrupted by the Israeli Cyber Commandos.
Thus, Governments are seriously working to develop and update their cyber capabilities in order to defend and fight back. But are there groups or collectives with such skill sets or capabilities that could pose serious threats to countries who are the cyberspace superpowers?
This document presents how efficiently an unknown worldwide collective hacked into the sensitive computer infrastructure of one of the authors of STUXNET during the aggression on innocent Palestinians in Gaza.
The term “Hacker” has different meanings. The original meaning of the term “Hacker” according to the Webster’s New World Hacker Dictionary, is “a creative individual who knows the details of computer systems and how to stretch their capabilities to deliver speedy solutions to seemingly complex information demands.” Nowadays these people are called White Hat Hackers and their job is to identify security issues and solve them. In-short, they are expert programmers and networking wizards who solve problems.
Coversely, the Black Hat Hacker or “Cracker” is “a malicious meddler in computer systems who is out to deface, replace, or delete data for personal gain, to sabotage a system, to get revenge, or to bring down the economic and social wellbeing of a nation by attacking its highly networked critical infrastructures.”
The World Superpowers have been building National Hacking Groups, also called Cyber Armies, to not only defend against state-on-state cyberwarfare and espionage, but to also be offensive and attack other nations for their national interests. These Cyber Armies, for the last two decades, have been busy writing mysterious Cyber weapons to infiltrate state owned mission critical infrastructure. One of these weapons is the Stuxnet worm, considered to be a revolutionary code in the realm of malware. David Sanger, a New York Times reporter wrote in June 2012 that the US and Israel Cyber Forces were the authors of Stuxnet worm which successfully wrecked the centrifuges at the Iranian Nuclear facility at Natanz .
Now, building a Cyber Army is not limited to governments. Different groups in different countries following the same ideologies have built their own Cyber Forces and have been busy attacking government infrastructure with a motive to make the governments listen and accept their demands. As an example, we can name a non-governmental decentralized worldwide collective as “Anonymous”, and, as of November 2012, it stands with the innocent Palestinians shoulder to shoulder against the Israeli aggression in Gaza.
Who are the Anonymous Hackers?
Anonymous is a mysterious and powerful collective of decentralized hackers with no leadership, no controlling party and spread over many mediums all over the world. The term “Anonymous Hackers” came online in the year 2003 . It is worth mentioning that the name “Anonymous” is a blanket term which is being used by both White Hats and Black Hats. They are not associated with each other and they do not communicate, thus both good and bad individuals can use this term for their white and black activities.
Hackers usually use this name to keep their identity unknown. Often hackers use this term with their location, for example “Anonymous UK”, “Anonymous India” and “Anonymous Pakistan”, etc.
Anonymous Hackers and Gaza
After IDF (Israeli Defense Force) officially launched the Operation “Pillar of Cloud”, on November 14th 2012, and struck densely populated areas in Gaza, killing a large number of innocent civilians. As a result, the Anonymous Hackers worldwide declared Cyberwar on Israel, after the Israeli government ignored their repeated warnings to stop the killing of the innocent people in Gaza. They called it the “barbaric, brutal and despicable treatment of the Palestinian people,” and started the initial active attacks on November 15th 2012 by defacing a number of Israeli Websites, including Israel’s Foreign Ministry and the municipal website for Tel Aviv .
They not only attacked the above Websites but also rooted the most reputable web server of the President of Israel. “TANGO DOWN – president.gov.il | #Anonymous #OpIsrael” . The Israeli government said that it had been hit with more than 44 million cyber attacks since it began aerial strikes on Gaza last week. Anonymous, the hacker collective, claimed responsibility for taking down some sites , because of the brutal killing of the innocent civilians in Gaza.
Israel incurred serious loss by losing critical government and corporate resources since last week. Carmela Avner, Israel’s chief information officer said on 18th November 2012 that “the war is being fought on three fronts, the first is physical, the second is the world of social networks and the third is cyberattacks” . The collective had deleted the databases of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Bank of Jerusalem, and leaked e-mail addresses and passwords for other sites. This brought a bad reputation for the authors of Stuxnet, who are proud of their Cyber skills.
The collective defended their motive for fighting Israel in a post on Wednesday 14th November 2012, saying “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 Force. Like so many around the globe, we have felt helpless in the face of such implacable evil. And today’s insane attack and threatened invasion of Gaza was more of the same” .
“We will be with you. No matter how dark it may seem, no matter how alone and abandoned you may feel – know that tens of thousands of us in Anonymous are with you and working tirelessly around the clock to bring you every aid and assistance that we can” .
According to the Washington Post, the Anonymous hackers posted two PDF files online called “The Anonymous Gaza Care Package”, allegedly containing tips on evading IDF surveillance, basic first aid and other information for Gazans .
The current situation demonstrates the powerful involvement of Hackers in battles and wars fought between countries. We have to accept that these individuals or collectives have extraordinary skill sets and the cyberspace is actually their own world that we explore every single day.
Although perfect security does not exist anywhere, from a neutral professional point of view it has to be a part of the national strategy of every country to build and develop a skilled Offensive Cyber Defense Force under a legal framework in order to secure the 1) National Cyber Traffic Backbone and 2) Key Mission Critical Systems using the standard Defensive Cyber techniques.