Billboards in Israel were briefly hacked to display pro-Hamas messages as cyberwar ramps up

Israel supporters hold flags as they protest, following Hamas’ biggest attack on Israel in years, in Bogota, Colombia October 9, 2023.

Luisa Gonzalez | Reuters

Cybersecurity threats in Israel are mounting amid the Israel-Hamas war, including two hijacked smart billboards that briefly showed pro-Hamas content, and a cyberattack on a college that published hundreds of thousands of personal records.

Hackers accessed two smart billboards in or near Tel Aviv for a few minutes on Thursday and “managed to switch the commercials into anti-Israeli, pro-Hamas footage,” Gil Messing, chief of staff at Check Point Software Technologies, a cybersecurity firm based in Tel Aviv, told CNBC, adding the footage featured “mainly the Israeli flag under fire … footage from Gaza, things like this.”

“We had to open the network for a few minutes, and they must’ve immediately penetrated it in that moment,” Eilon Rosman, CEO of CTV Media Israel, the company that owned the two billboards, told the media outlet Geektime on Thursday, according to a CNBC translation.

Most cyberthreats that Check Point has seen since Saturday involve either defacement of websites or distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks for a brief period of time, Messing told CNBC, adding the billboard incidents are “very marginal … when you compare it to everything else that’s been going on here.”

Check Point tracks hacking groups on the dark web or on their Telegram pages, and the firm has seen threats of attacks on critical infrastructure, such as water utilities, according to one Telegram group message viewed by CNBC that threatens Mekorot, Israel’s top water management agency.

More than 40 groups are currently attempting, or say they’re attempting, cyberattacks, Messing said, adding these threats aren’t uncommon.

“These people are threatening, not necessarily executing. … The motivation is more about creating fear and discomfort, not so much about creating damage that is significant.”

The biggest cyberattack so far this week involved Ono Academic College near Tel Aviv, Messing said. On Monday, a hacker group claiming to be from Jordan breached the private college’s system and published about 250,000 records of employees, students, former students and more on Telegram. The college subsequently had to take its systems offline.

“Cyberattack experts investigated and discovered that information was leaked from our computer system. We are dealing with the issue and are in touch with the national cyber authority and have also informed the authority responsible for privacy protection,” the college said in a statement translated by CNBC. “We estimate that our IT systems will be fully operational in the next few days.”

“This is a significant attack,” Messing said.

More CNBC coverage of the Israel-Hamas war

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