A former housekeeper for Israel Defense Minister Benny Gantz will spend three years in prison for allegedly attempting to infect the official’s computer with malware in exchange for cash from Iran-linked hackers. The cleaner, the BBC notes, agreed to a plea deal to avoid being prosecuted under espionage charges which carry a sentence of 10 to 15 years,
The cleaner, a 38-year-old Lod resident who had reportedly worked in Gantz’s home for several years, was arrested and hit with the espionage charge last November. According to an indictment spotted by Business Insider, the cleaner allegedly reached out to members of a hacking group known as Black Shadow over Telegram. In exchange for around $7,000, the cleaner allegedly agreed to feed the hacker’s information from within Gantz’s house and even allegedly offered to plug in a dirty USB device into Gantz’s computer to infect it. On top of that, prosecutors allege the cleaner sent photos of the defense minister’s computer and other items to the hackers to prove he had access to the residence.
In a statement provided to The Times of Israel, the former cleaner’s attorney said he “is not a spy,” and argued their client did not knowingly try to spy for Iran. That’s significant because, maybe you’ve heard, Israel and Iran aren’t exactly on great terms.
“This is about a man who found himself entangled in debt and identified a security breach,” the attorneys said.
The cleaner, on the other hand, reportedly claimed he actually intended to pull a fast one on the hackers.
“If they would have waited a few days before arresting me they’d see that I’m not a spy,” the cleaner reportedly said according to The Times of Israel. “I wanted to trick the Iranians and take their money without sending them any photo or documents.”
Israel’s internal Shin Bet security service admitted it found “numerous failures” in its vetting process leading to the cleaner’s hiring. An investigation following the cleaner’s arrest determined he had five previous convictions and four prison sentences. Two of those allegedly involved bank robberies.
Black Shadow was reportedly behind a number of hacking operations targeting Israeli officials last year. Last October the group reportedly gained access to the servers of Israeli web hosting service Cyberserve. Months later, the group published names and passwords stolen from an Israeli LGBTQ dating site called Atraf. Rather than negotiate privately with victims like most cybercriminals trying to score a quick buck, Black Shadow has shown a tendency to instead leak sensitive documents to the public and drive attention towards their targets. That hacktivist tendency has led security analysts to suggest the group is ideologically aligned with the Iranian government. Israel and Iran, in general, have ramped up cyber skirmishes against each other in recent years.