Islamic Jihad’s cyber-war brigades



 
The Palestinian Islamist movement, Islamic Jihad, says it has a new division of its armed Al-Quds Brigades - a cyberwar unit that claims it has hacked into the websites of several Israeli media outlets.
 
By OLA AL-MADHOUN
 
Hassan Shakoura, former head of the Al-Quds Brigades' cyberwar unit before his death in March 2007. © Ola Al-Madhoun
Hassan Shakoura, former head of the Al-Quds Brigades' cyberwar unit before his death in March 2007. © Ola Al-Madhoun

GAZA CITY, June 17, 2008 (MENASSAT) – The Palestinian Islamist movement, Islamic Jihad, has added a cyber-war division to its armed Al-Quds Brigades.

It was a response to years of attacks by Israeli hackers, and according to the Brigades spokesman, Abu Hamza, it equals the playing field in cyber-space.

"The Israeli's have worked very hard the past few years on monitoring all the Palestinian websites, especially those of Islamic Jihad and Al-Quds Brigades," Hamza told MENASSAT.

"They (Israeli hackers) hacked these websites and erased them from the electronic boards or even added indecent pictures to them," he said.

Hamza told MENASSAT that the Brigades had to establish an e-media military unit "because we had to fight the enemy in the electronic media to resist being assaulted on two fronts – physically and virtually."

'E-martyr'

The e-media military unit told the London-based Arabic-language newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat in March that it had hacked several Israeli websites, uploading pictures on them of Al-Quds Brigades' martyrs and songs associated with Islamic Jihad.

"We hacked the Yediot Ahronot and Maariv newspapers, and put pictures of our martyrs like Hassan Shakoura on their sites," Hamza said.

Shakoura is said to have been the person in charge of the e-media military unit in Gaza up until he and two of his colleagues were killed on March 15 in northeast Gaza during a targeted Israeli missile strike.

The Brigades also claim to have hacked into some Israeli military sites and at least one site administered by the Jewish settler movement, as well as the Yisha news on Israel's channel 7 website, although MENASSAT could not get confirmation of this.

The nuts and bolts activities of the group are less glamorous, monitoring what the Israeli government and its supporters are doing to counter the Palestinian resistance online.

Abu Hamza said that the e-media military unit doesn't just work on breaking the security of the Israeli websites – both governmental and civilian –, but it is also "expanding its cyber-reach to include attempts at hacking and bugging the Israeli telecommunications network."

"So far, these attempts have not succeeded," he told MENASSAT.

Although MENASSAT was unable to get an Israeli reaction to these claims, what is clear is that the e-media military unit has an expanding network of programmers and IT volunteers willing to continue the work of men like Shakoura.

When asked if the assassination of Shakoura had affected their work, Abu Hamza told MENASSAT, "Shakoura had a major role to play in the electronic media war. But we never count on one person in al-Quds Brigades."

"We still have many great leaders in the technology field. Despite our utter sorrow for the assassination of Shakoura, this couldn't stop our work and determination in persecuting the enemy by hacking its positions online."

Google Earth

Among Israel's main security concerns with militants operating in the Gaza Strip are the rocket attacks that target settler towns in southern Israel, like Sderot and Ashkelon.

Abu Hamza said the experts in the unit had participated in these attacks, helping to locate the targets on e-maps.

"When the militants fire missiles on Israeli targets, they do so in collaboration with the experts of the unit who specify the military and political positions in the settlements. They also use Google Earth, which helps a lot," he told MENASSAT.

Yediot Ahronot denies that the Al-Quds Brigades’ e-media military unit blocked its website or posted pictures of their martyrs on its pages. But Rony Shked, an Israeli journalist working with Yediot Ahronot, told MENASSAT that the newspaper was subject to constant cyber-attacks, and that despite the extreme security measures in place, Yediot's website, ynetnews.net has been blocked in the past.

"We can't know whether Israeli hackers attacked Hamas' website or those associated with Islamic Jihad, but I can say that many Israeli websites have been attacked by Palestinian hackers," he said.

Yediot reporter Roee Nahmias wrote in a March article about Al-Quds Brigades' claims to have a hacker division, "Any group pointing to a unit dedicated to defacing websites does not necessarily indicate any operational sophistication, since any teenager with basic programming skills can do the same."

However, a Palestinian living in Israel did lead a cell of Arab hackers from Lebanon and Saudi Arabia in targeting Israeli political websites, the Likud party website among them, as well as sports sites. And before his arrest in January, Israeli police said he successfully targeted several financial institutions.