JERUSALEM—An Iranian hacker succeeded in gaining access last year to the computer database of a retired Israeli army chief of staff, according to Israel’s Channel 10. The officer was not named.
It is not clear to what extent, if any at all, the computer contained classified information.
The identity of the hacker was revealed by the hacker himself, Yaser Balachi, who forgot to remove his email address at some point in his cyber travels. "Balachi said that he had not operated on his own initiative but for another cyber organization that commissioned the work," said Ron Davidson, head of security services at the Israeli cyber firm Check Point. Balachi’s sponsor is believed to have been Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
According to the television report, hackers working for the Revolutionary Guards have breached computers belonging to more than 1,800 individuals, including several hundred in Israel. Among the latter are generals, current or past security officials, employees of consulting firms, and academic researchers.
The Iranian hacking campaign has also targeted human rights activists in the Persian Gulf and selected scientists in other countries. Many are sent emails which, when opened, release spyware into their computers.
Israel has been the target of many cyber attacks in recent years. Last month, government officials said that the country’s electricity system was the target of a particularly aggressive campaign from an unnamed source. The pace of cyber-attacks is accelerating faster than the investment in cyber safety, said Gil Shwed, CEO of Check Point.
Israel itself is a major player in the cyber wars, and not just on defense. It reportedly succeeded in penetrating the Iranian nuclear program several years ago and significantly slowing it down. Israel is second only to the United States in cyber-security technology, according to Gadi Tirosh, of Jerusalem Venture Partners. The country currently has 172 companies big enough to be backed by major investors. There are altogether 430 cyber companies operating in Israel, with an average of 52 new cyber startups every year.
In an interview with the Times of Israel, an army major knowledgeable about the field said that during the war in Gaza two years ago Israel was targeted by Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, and Palestinian hacker groups. "They displayed strong capabilities which have gotten considerably better over the years," he said, speaking anonymously. "But the past year has seen some very sophisticated attacks."
The Israeli army last year announced that it is forming a Cyber Corps, which is expected to become operational next year. Israel’s role in cyber security, said the major, rests in large part on graduates of the army’s technological units. "The technology out there upgrades by the hour and it is vital that we stay ahead of it."