Cyberhate crimes against Jewish institutions on the rise

Cyberhate crimes against Jewish institutions on the rise

Thu, Oct 08, 2015
On April 15, an individual or group calling itself “Gaza Hacker Team” hacked into and defaced the Jewish Press newspaper website. On March 24, hackers identifying themselves as “ISIS cyber army” claimed responsibility for breaking into 51 American websites.

While the No. 1 reason for computer hacking continues to be criminal financial gain, there’s been an increase in cyberhate hacking in the past year. Much of the cyberhate is aimed at the Jewish community.

According to an Anti-Defamation League report, recent anti-Semitic hacker targets included a Jewish high school, synagogues in five states and universities in five states. While previous hacking efforts against Jewish institutions traditionally have focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, recent attacks have been carried out in the name of the Islamic State.

“Cyberhate focuses on the air of creating a threat,” explained Jonathan Vick. “It is an attempt to disenfranchise people. Hackers will deface a website or something connected to the Jewish community and put up anti-Semitic, anti-Jewish propaganda to create a type of digital terror.”

Vick is the assistant director for Cyberhate Response at the Cyber Safety Center in ADL’s Center on Extremism in New York. Vick was in Houston, Sept. 30-Oct. 2. He spoke to attendees at the ADL Cybersecurity seminar, which was attended by a number of local Jewish organizations and businesses. He also addressed members of the Glass Leadership Institute and Houston business leaders and lawyers.

Once upon a time, hacking largely was the domain of groups of youngish people who broke into computers as a hobby or to create credibility for themselves in the programming community. In the early 1990s, some hacker activists began breaking into computer networks to promote their own political agendas. In the last decade, hackers around the world increasingly have adopted the veneer of a political cause to justify acts of cyberterrorism.

“For example, this January, a group of anti-Israel hackers calling themselves ‘Terrorists Team for Electronic Jihad’ claimed responsibility for several attacks against Israeli websites on behalf of ISIS,” said Vick.

“So, it’s no longer about simple digital trespass. Cyberterrorism and cyberhate now become noble by taking on all these political themes that make crime sound better. But, the main purpose of cyberhate attacks is to create panic and terror in people’s minds.

“Cyberhate crimes are illegal. It’s not just invasion of privacy. It’s in the same category as breaking into a computer for fraud or embezzlement. You’re illegally accessing someone’s computer account.”

Vick argued that most Jewish organizations are not current in their level of protection against cyberhate attacks. “In terms of how Jewish organizations manage their computer operations, most institutions and professionals are not as careful about this as we should be,” said Vick.

“The level of protection, diligence, awareness, staying up to date with equipment and software is a job in itself. So, it is difficult for the average person to stay on top. Ironically, it seems easier for the hackers, who seem to have more time on their hands than the rest of us, to stay ahead of the curve.”

New cyberhate and cyberterrorist groups pop up regularly. For example, Vick currently is following a group called AnonGhost Team. This group posts copies of all the websites they hacked on a boast board (a website where hackers post their successes). The bragging is a propaganda tool, without a doubt, said Vick.

“Since January, AnonGhost claims to have defaced thousands of websites, from Syrian sites to Israeli ones, although they have a definite preference for Jewish-themed organizations. We’ve knocked down their Facebook page several times. We interrupt their ability to brag about what they want to do.”

Yet, this sort of cyberterrorism continues to expand. Vick urged Jewish organizations to take three basic steps to counter the threat of cyberhate attacks:

Make sure your website is hosted by a professional company. Confirm that the host company provides security and the 24-hour round-the-clock response you need in case of an attack on erev Shabbat or on a Jewish holiday.

Confirm the program used to create your website is up to date. (Older programs have vulnerabilities which open the door to cyberattacks.)

Have an action plan prepared and accessible. If someone phones to report a website breach and a secretary picks up the call, all the secretary needs to do is quickly access an emergency response guidebook with telephone numbers and emails and action plan included.

Vick’s bottom line: Cyberhate isn’t a matter of youthful mischief. It’s a type of intimidation.

“Sometimes, an institution has membership lists or other valuable information on their website. So, there can be a more insidious side to these attacks,” Vick said.

“Avoid becoming a target. Be aware of your email and screen names (overtly identifying yourself with political, ethnic or racial identification).

“Most important: Respond when things happen. If your email account gets hijacked, go to IC3 (the Internet Crime Complaint Center site). File a complaint. Call the police if you feel threatened by an email.

“Regardless of where you stand on your politics, when it comes to outside world and anti-Semitism, all Jews are in the same boat.”


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