A tit-for-tat cyberwar between Israelis and Arabs, a new twist on an age-old conflict, has so far involved nuisance credit-card hacks and denial-of-service attacks on Web sites, but could easily take a deadly turn if it escalates.
That's the warning of a top technology consultant after the anti-Israel hackers kicked it up a notch, taking on the national airline, a major bank and the Tel Aviv stock exchange in their bid to cause havoc in the Jewish state.
The denial-of-service attacks hit the stock exchange, El Al Israel Airlines, and the First International Bank of Israel, as well as two subsidiaries, Massad and Otzar Hahayal on Monday, MSNBC reported.
"As things become more connected, cars and planes could be hacked as well [as computers], resulting in potential damage that could make 9/11 look trivial by comparison," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group. "Think of a large number of connected cars with active accident avoidance suddenly turning right and stopping on a freeway, for instance.
"I expect these activities will increasingly become deadly as systems become more connected and the attacking groups move more sharply toward creating terror."
Monday's DoS attack comes on the heels of the Jan. 3 dumping of thousands of credit card numbers of Israeli citizens on a popular sports site. Saudi Arabian hackers, known as Group XP, believed to be tied to the international hacker group Anonymous, took responsibility for that attack and warned of more.
Shortly after that, a hacker who uses the nom de guerre oxOmar, believed to be a 19-year-old Saudi, posted credit card of 6,000 thousand Israelis online.
The hacks were an embarrassment for a country known for its technological prowess -- as well as its penchant for revenge. But the retaliation seemed to come from a non-government source. A group of Israeli hackers told the daily newspaper Yediot Acharanot, "If the leaks continue, we will cause severe damage to the privacy of Saudi citizens."
Then, an Israeli 17-year-old, identified as a member of the Israeli army intelligence but acting independently, told Israeli media that he released thousands of Saudi credit card numbers. He called himself OXOmer, a twist on the name of his nemesis, and said he was part of a group of hackers called Israel Defenders.
The government, at least publicly, is keeping out of it, with Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon saying in a statement published by Reuters that, "Just as the Israeli government has found answers for terrorism, we will find answers to this challenge...we call on Israeli citizens not to...act as vigilantes."
Raising the Stakes
Enderle said the back and forth would likely fuel a push for "draconian laws" to stop hacking.
"Israel is already moving to make these [hackings qualify as] terrorist acts and that will raise dramatically both enforcement and punishment for them," he said. "Those of us in the community have been warning for some time that this was a likely outcome, but methods to protect against it apparently weren't getting enough attention to get the critical funding. That appears to be changing very rapidly and this new battlefield is likely to become much harder fought in the near term future as a result. "
Last week, Ayalon said, "Israel has active capabilities for striking at those who are trying to harm it, and no agency or hacker will be immune from retaliatory action."
In May 2010, the United States established its Cyber Command, a division of Strategic Command, to "ensure U.S./Allied freedom of action in cyberspace and deny the same to our adversaries."