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Tuesday, 07 May 2019 08:35

Ex-NSA man slams Israel for strike on alleged Hamas cyber attackers Featured

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Jake Williams: "Don't label Israel's actions as 'not our problem' or 'something happening a world away'. Neither is true." Jake Williams: "Don't label Israel's actions as 'not our problem' or 'something happening a world away'. Neither is true." Supplied

Israel has crossed the Rubicon with its attack on alleged cyber attackers belonging to the Palestinian group Hamas, a well-known information security professional says, adding that this action must be condemned by the international community else it risks becoming a new norm of warfare.

Former NSA hacker Jake Williams was referring to the attack that Israel carried out on Sunday on a building it claimed housed Hamas cyber attackers.

"Israel destroys a Hamas hacking facility (non-combatants) in response to a non-specific cyber attack that was successfully repelled," Williams said. "The only official comment from the administration is to deny new military deployments are related (an obvious lie)."

iTWire contacted the Israel Defence Force on Monday morning to ask for any statement it had issued about the strike as there was no public statement on its website. The IDF has not yet replied.

In a tweet, the IDF said: "We thwarted an attempted Hamas cyber offensive against Israeli targets. Following our successful cyber defensive operation, we targeted a building where the Hamas cyber operatives work."

The attack on this building was part of other offensive operations that took place after Hamas was alleged to have fired rockets into Israel over the weekend.

Williams, a former member of the NSA's elite Tailored Access Operations Unit who now runs his own firm, Rendition Infosec, said: "Don't label Israel's actions as 'not our problem' or 'something happening a world away'. Neither is true."

He added: "It's not just the military at risk either. The US already linked hackers and contract support staff (developers, QA, systems admins) as legally equally culpable in nation state hacking. US contractors working in tertiary roles are equally at risk if we let this stand."

In the past, Williams has spoken out against the US policy of naming individuals as being responsible for alleged nation-state cyber attacks on American targets.

In another thread, Williams, who regularly trains people in cyber security, put forward a theoretical situation, asking "Suppose we're in an active shooting conflict (like Israel and Hamas were). I'm teaching a group of students who happen to be Hamas hackers and support).

"Suppose we're in a commercial training facility in a high rise. We're one group on one floor (civilians elsewhere). Although there's no immediate danger from them right now, they performed an unspecified cyber attack (that was repelled) before class starts.

"After class is over today, they might go back to hacking Israel again. We obviously don't know their targets or their capabilities. What do you do here? Is it justified to blow up the building in retaliation for earlier attack?

"What if the motive is to prevent some unspecified future threat? Does the motive matter? They are, after all combatants on the cyber battlefield. But they aren't actively threatening anyone. How do you handle this? How should it be handled? Is bombing the building okay?

"After answering, read that again and replace Hamas and Israel with US and ISIS respectively. Does that change your answer at all? Then consider this is not a hypothetical. Does that change the answer?"

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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