Diplomacy & defense
A senior figure in Israel's military intelligence directorate said Wednesday that there had been an increase in recent months of cases of soldiers being contacted by suspicious figures online through social media, with the goal of extracting sensitive information from the soldiers through both conversations and more sinister means.
The military says that many of these figures were in fact Hamas operatives in disguise.
The army noted an emphasis on Facebook, and particularly closed Facebook groups run by IDF soldiers, which were infiltrated by Hamas. The operatives used stolen online identities, often belonging to attractive young females, to gain the trust of the group administrators, who then allowed them to join the groups.
The Hamas members typically communicated in Hebrew, even making use of slang terms common among Israeli youths to lower suspicions. The conversations would soon turn to sensitive military matters, with attempts to gain knowledge of IDF plans and future operations, particularly relating to the Gaza Strip.
Later they would try and convince the soldiers to install an app on their phones, supposedly for the sake of more convenient conversation. The real purpose however was to gain control of the soldiers' cellular phones. The Hamas operatives asked the soldiers to press on a web link, leading to the installation of 'Trojan horse' type software on the phone, placing it under the effective control of Hamas.
Using this method, Hamas could gain knowledge of the phone's location, use the device to take pictures and even listen in on conversations taking place in its vicinity. Following the app's installation, the operative would typically cut off communication with the soldier. Many of the soldiers found the behavior suspicious and reported the conversations to their superiors.
The senior military figure said several dozens of phones had been infected with the software, but that all of the applications had since been removed. He also noted that Android operating systems were more vulnerable to hacking and thus targeted more often.
Most of those targeted were IDF combat soldiers on active duty. High ranking officers and soldiers serving in more secretive units were not infected with the software. The army stresses that the damage inflicted by the Hamas hackers was 'minimal', and that the IDF's ability to operate was not affected. The officer did admit that the IDF "doesn't know everything" about the matter, adding that a military hotline had been set up for soldiers to report similar cases.
Several of the stolen identities used by the Hamas operatives have been made public by the IDF. The senior military figure noted that the IDF was going public with the affair in order to raise awareness to the dangers present online. So far none of the soldiers who installed the software have been arrested, with the military preferring to simply encourage soldiers to come forward if they know of similar occurrences.
However, if a particularly serious case is uncovered, this could change. The officer added the army would be tightening its controls over online conduct of IDF soldiers, with an emphasis on forbidding contact with unfamiliar suspicious figures. The army acknowledges however, that online interaction is a part of modern life and sweeping prohibitions are not expected.