A New Era of Warfare Begins as Cyberattack Leads to Airstrikes

Israeli soldiers walks in front of a Merkava tanks, stationed near the border with the Gaza Strip on May 6, 2019 in Mavkim, Israel.
Photo: Lion Mizrahi (Getty)

For the first time ever, a government announced publicly that it had used immediate lethal physical force in response to a cyberattack.

Israeli military officials announced on Sunday that it launched air strikes to respond to an alleged “Hamas cyber offensive against Israeli targets.”

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The exchange came amid a flurry of deadly violence between Israel and Palestinian groups in Gaza that left at least 23 Palestinians and four Israelis dead, CNN reported. The fighting began when Hamas and Islamic Jihad, two Gaza militant groups, fired around 600 projectiles into Israel over the weekend. On Monday, a cease-fire was reached after being brokered by Egypt and the United Nations.

The Israel Defense Force used the incident as an opportunity to grab the spotlight on Twitter: “HamasCyberHQ.exe has been removed.”

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“Hamas no longer has cyber capabilities after our strike,” IDF spokesperson Ronen Manelis told reporters, according to the Times of Israel.

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Earlier this year, the Russian cybersecurity company Kaspersky spotlighted a stable of Gaza-based hacking groups. Similar campaigns have been known for years and some have been linked by researchers to Hamas. But it’s not clear who was on the receiving end of this week’s attack by Israel nor if any casualties were incurred as a result of this particular incident.

Israel’s claim is noteworthy because it brings into reality a scenario that many experts have long predicted: The use of immediate and near real-time physical force to respond to a cyberattack.

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In an interview with CyberScoop, former deputy assistant secretary for policy at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security called it “inevitable” that rockets would fly in response to cyberattacks.

“We mistakenly tend to think that the cyber domain exists apart from the physical world, but it doesn’t,” Rosenzweig, a senior fellow at R Street Institute, said.

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Beyond a loud announcement of their success, there is little detail available about the incident. We don’t know if anyone was killed and the IDF is not answering questions on the subject. We don’t know specifics about the Hamas offensive.

A pseudonymous IDF Cyber Division commander told the Times of Israel that the cyberattack occurred Saturday and was aimed at “harming the quality of life of Israeli citizens.”

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The United States targeted a member of ISIS in 2015 in response to information warfare when Junaid Hussain, the ISIS operative known as TriCk, was killed by drone strike for allegedly using the internet to recruit ISIS sympathizers in the West and releasing personally identifiable information of about 1,300 U.S. military and government employees in an effort to endanger them.

The distinction is that Israel’s deadly response to the alleged Hamas hacking attempt occurred practically in real time.

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“After dealing with the cyber dimension, the Air Force dealt with it in the physical dimension,” said IDF spokesperson Brig. Gen. Ronen Manlis, according to ZDNet. “At this point in time, Hamas has no cyber operational capabilities.”

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Patrick Howell O'Neill

Reporter in Silicon Valley. Contact me: Email poneill@gizmodo.com, Signal +1-650-488-7247