Hackers crash Stock Exchange, El Al websites

Visitors to the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange watch the action on the computerized big board. (Flash 90)

JERUSALEM (JWN and agencies)—Hackers presumably based in Saudi Arabia penetrated the websites of the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange (TASE) and El Al Israel Airlines on Monday, forcing them to shut down for several hours.

The attack was an escalation of a cyber skirmish last week, when a Saudi hacker penetrated an Israeli sports site and published the credit card information of thousands of Israelis. An Israeli computer aficionado quickly responded by publishing hundreds of Saudi credit card accounts.

What threatened to develop into a full-fledged cyber war followed that action, when the Saudi hacker said he “had only just begun” and would reveal thousands more card numbers.

As if this were not enough, Hamas on Sunday called for tougher hacking attempts at Israeli sites. “The penetration into Israeli websites opens a new front for electronic resistance and war against the Israeli occupation,” Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri told a press conference in the Gaza Strip.

In Monday’s attack, the Saudi network, which calls itself the “Nightmare Group”, caused enough problems with the stock exchange site to reduce it to only partial functioning, while El Al’s site was shut down entirely for hours.

Upon receiving news of the attack, the Bank of Israeli ordered Israel’s service providers to block the IP addresses from Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Algeria, in anticipation of a possible attempt to penetrate the databases of the country’s banks. Israel Discount Bank and Bank Leumi blocked international access to their sites even before the Bank of Israel could act.

 A TASE spokesperson pointed out that the exchange’s trading system and website are not connected, and therefore trade was not affected by the hackers.

El Al said it was “taking safety measures in the operations of the company’s website,” and that disruptions were to be expected.

In an unhappy coincidence, the anti-cyber terror task force touted by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu officially began operating last week—but remained without a budget, staff, defined jurisdiction, or chief of operations, a full seven months after being announced with much fanfare.

When Netanyahu announced the initiative in May, credit card information was just one thing needing protection. At the time, he noted that Israel needed to prepare its defenses against “cyber attacks which can paralyze entire life systems on which the country runs. Electricity, credit cards, water, transportation, traffic lights—every one of those is computerized and therefore susceptible to attack.”

In fact, the cyber task force is not supposed to protect civilians from events such as credit card hacking, which is the purview of the Israel Police computer crime unit. This unit currently spends most of its time identifying online pedophiles.

The security of vital infrastructure networks, such as Israel Electric and the Water Authority is handled by the National Information Security Authority, a unit within the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).