Intelligence Review of #OpIsrael Cyber Campaign (April 7, 2015)

Starting at the end of last week, hacktivist groups from around the Muslim world tried to attack Israeli websites, particularly those of government institutions, as part of the #OpIsrael cyber campaign. In the past twenty-four hours they stepped up their activity, but we have seen no signs of major attacks. Despite all the publicity prior to the campaign, the hackers’ successes were limited to defacing several hundred private websites and leaking the email addresses of tens of thousands of Israelis, many of them recycled from previous campaigns. Several dozen credit card numbers were also leaked on information-sharing websites, but our examination shows that some were recycled from past leaks.

AnonGhost, which initiated the campaign, was the main actor behind it. However, other groups of hackers, such as Fallaga, MECA (Middle East Cyber Army), Anon.Official.org, and Indonesian and Algerian groups also participated in the attacks. As the campaign progressed, we saw an increasing number of posts and tweets about it (over 3,000), but this is still significantly less than last year, when there were tens of thousands.

As we noted in previous updates, the campaign was conducted primarily on social networks, especially Facebook and Twitter. IRC channels opened for the campaign were barely active, partly because hackers feared spying by “intelligence agents.” On closed forums and Darknet platforms, we saw no activity related to #OpIsrael.

Participants discuss why the campaign is smaller than in 2013
Participants discuss why the campaign is smaller than in 2013

Following is a summary of the main results of the attacks that we have identified so far:

  • Defacing of hundreds of websites. Victims included Meretz (an Israeli political party), various Israeli companies, sub-domains of institutions of higher education, municipalities, Israeli artists, and more.
  • Leaking of tens of thousands of email addresses and personal information of Israelis. A significant portion of the information was recycled from previous campaigns. Databases from third-party websites were also leaked. In addition, two files were leaked and according to the hackers, one had 30,000 email addresses and the other 150,000 records.
  • Publication of details from dozens of credit cards, some of them recycled.

School Is Now in Session – The Spread of Hacking Tutorials in the Deep and Dark Web

One of the most common posts seen on hacker forums is “Hello, I’m new and I want to be a hacker.” Any aspiring hacker must learn coding, networking, system security, and the like, and increasingly, hacking forums are responding to this demand and providing tutorials for those who wish to learn the basics quickly.

Hacking forums have two main kinds of tutorial sections, one open to any forum member and the other exclusively for VIP members. In this post we will review two case studies from closed forums, one from the onion network and the other from the Deep Web.

Case Studies

The first tutorial, taken from a closed forum in the onion network, is actually four tutorials wrapped together to teach POS (point-of-sale) hacking. It includes a list of essential malware and software for POS hacking. While it starts with a basic overview of POS and of RAM (random-access memory) scraping, it very quickly dives into explanations that require an advanced understanding of hacking.

POS tutorial in the onion network
POS tutorial in the onion network

The second tutorial is a basic PayPal hacking tutorial, taken from a closed forum on the Deep Web and oriented toward noobs (beginners). It is actually more about scamming than hacking. It notes that one way to get user details is to hack vulnerable shopping sites using SQL injections and explains how to check whether the stolen user details are associated with a PayPal account. It also mentions that user details can simply be acquired from posts on the forum.

PayPal tutorial on closed forum
PayPal tutorial on closed forum

What is really interesting is that this practical forum has many tutorial sections and sub-sections (we counted six), which raises an interesting question: Why do hackers share?

Motives

There is no one answer to this question, but we can divide hackers’ motivations into four categories:

  • Self-promotion – One of the differences between regular hackers and good hackers is reputation. The most obvious way for hackers to improve their reputation is of course to perform a good hack, but they can also enhance their reputation by being part of a well-known hacking team or displaying vast knowledge, such as by publishing tutorials. It appears that Red, a junior member of the onion network forum who is not known and has a small number of posts, is increasing his value in the eyes of other forum members and site administrators by publishing tutorials, including the POS tutorial. This improved reputation can give him new privileges, such as access to the forum’s VIP sections. In most cases, tutorials shared for this reason range from beginner to intermediate level and can be understand by almost any beginner.
  • Site promotion – Commerce in hacking forums hiding deep in the Internet works like any other free market: if you have the right goods, people will come and your business will boom, but if your shop does not look successful, customers will stay away. Hacking forums, like other businesses, compete for the attention of their target audience. The PayPal tutorial was published by BigBoss, a site administrator, who was probably seeking publicity for the site. To ensure that there is a large number of tutorials on the site, the administrators publish their own from time to time. These can be very simple (as in this case) or very specialized and technical (such as those offered in closed forum sections).
  • Financial gain – As we noted, these forums are businesses, and like any business, they need to sell products in order to make a profit. They can do this by creating VIP sections with unique content (such as special tutorials) open to paying members only, as opposed to VIP sections based on reputation or Individual members also use the forums for financial gain and sell more concrete items—malware, credit cards, and the like—or more abstract items, like knowledge in the form of tutorials or lessons. In most cases the tutorials are very advanced, with extensive details, so that their creators can charge for them.
A forum member selling his knowledge
A forum member selling his knowledge
  • Knowledge sharing — Sometimes, people share their knowledge without any ulterior motive. This is usually done in a closed section of a forum and only with prime members or a group of friends. In this case, the knowledge shared varies according to the group and can be state-of-the-art or very simple.

Conclusions

In a society based heavily on information, we cannot escape the frequently rehashed concept that “knowledge is power.” As the technology world continues to evolve and the hacker community along with it, the need for “how to” knowledge is growing. Tutorials provide beginners with an effective gateway into the world of hacking and expose advanced users to new methods of operation. For us, the observers, they provide a small glimpse into developing trends, attack methods, methods of assessing hacker knowledge, and much more.