Kaspersky Lab, a Russian based cyber security firm, has uncovered a cyber-terrorism ring based primarily out of the Palestinian territories, Egypt, and Turkey.
The ring, comprised of nearly 30 individuals, is the first Arabic language group that is attempting to steal vital intelligence information via malware and other methods.
The cyber-terrorists are creating original malware programs which infect traditional as well as mobile computer platforms. Once inside the backend of computer systems, the hackers, who call themselves Desert Falcon, steal sensitive information. They then use that information to blackmail and extort the owners.
Kaspersky reported that more that 1 million files were stolen by the group.Targets affected included educational institutions, economic and financial institutions, media groups, private individuals, militaries, and government organizations.
There are over 3,000 known victims spanning 50 different countries, centering around the home countries of the attackers but also to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirate, Morocco, Qatar and the United States.
“Stolen files include diplomatic communications from embassies, military plans and documents, financial documents, VIP and media contact lists and files,” said a Kaspersky representative in a statement.
While Desert Falcon has been active since 2011, the group has only recently begun carrying out successful, large scale attacks.
Kaspersky also noted that Israel has sidestepped two major recent hacker attacks. The most recent attack, called the “Equation Group,” has been identified as a cross-border attack that Kaspersky has called the worst hacking attack in history. The attack missed Israel but hit almost every other country in the Middle East.
The “Equation Group” uses malware that has been infecting systems for over a decade and has the ability to rewrite the affected system’s hard disk. This is the first ever malware attack that has that capability according to Kaspersky.
Most affected were computer systems in Syria, Pakistan, Russia and China as well as a host of Arab countries in the Middle East. Other than Israel, countries that avoided the attack included Canada, Australia, and a large portion of Europe.
Israeli cyber-security experts estimate that Israeli governmental and affiliated institutions alone are the victims of between 100,00 to 1 million hacking attempts each day, with the higher number of attacks happening during times of increased tension.
Israel is well known for its cyber-defense capabilities, including a dedicated unit in the IDF to specifically identify and thwart any and all major cyber-attacks against the country. Many of the alumni from the elite cyber-defense unit later go into the field of cyber-defense as a profession, carrying with them the knowledge that they can use in the field throughout their careers.