Thursday, December 13, 2012

Cyber Warfare Cont’d

The last Israel-Hamas war was accompanied by intense online attacks waged by both sides. It started when the actual warfare was going on and became almost non-stop after the ceasefire was announced. Anonymous hackers from both sides used the distributional denial of service (DDOS) attacks to overload the traffic connection to the opponents’ website. The types of DDOS used this time are known as the Layer 7 attacks. They have relatively smaller volume and utilize much less bandwidth, and therefore are even harder to defend against for traditional DDOS scrubbing services. Previously similar attacks have been used for political purposes in Russia-Georgia War and Russia-Estonia crisis. Cyberwar is not new to Hamas-Israeli wars either; there have been a variety of internet attacks in 2008-2009 as well. But the last war still showed several interesting tendencies:
Israeli website defaced by
Pakistani hackers
  • Unlike the previous instances, this time cyber offensives were not launched by only one side of the conflict. Websites of both sides came under regular attacks. For instance, Palestinian group Anonymous started to DDOS Israeli websites few days before the ceasefire and soon came under attack itself. A private U.S. company Cloudflare, which provides website protection services to organizations on both sides of the conflict, found itself in a unique situation observing “crossfire” between the supporters of two sides. Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince wrote about this in his blog post.
  • Such attacks are not causing physical or any major financial harm to anybody. The maximum DDOS attacks can achieve is paralyzing opponents’ information websites, deterring legitimate visitors from accessing the information. In some cases hackers enjoy posting humiliating photos or posts on the front pages of their victims. So, why making such a big deal out of this? Information campaigns and the ability to justify country’s military actions have been an important part of the warfare from ancient times. Rules always tried to justify their conquests and winners always enjoyed the monopoly over writing the history. In the Internet era, however, losers also get to say and push their version of history. More than that, it is becoming difficult to identify winners and losers. Both Israel and Hamas claim the victory in the last confrontation, boasting their tactical and other successes through social media and other services. After Russia-Georgia ceasefire in 2008, Georgian government also launched an expensive information campaign assuring primarily Georgian society, but also international community, that Georgia has won the war. In these situations attacks on major information services have increasingly symbolic importance.  
  • It was interesting to see that confrontation in the internet space intensified and lasted for days after the ceasefire. In the future this may raise the issue of how ceasefire agreements can and should regulate cyber confrontations as well. Otherwise sides may stop bombing each other’s territory by missiles, but inflict other types of damage in cyberspace. With the technological development this damage can be much more significant than just bringing down the information or governmental websites. However, until attacks are carried out by anonymous individuals and groups unrelated to any official structures, regulating this field will remain very challenging.
  • And finally, to continue on the same note, last Israeli-Gaza cyber conflict again stressed rapidly increasing role of individuals and private companies. Even though the attacks targeted governmental and other official websites, actual “fighting” was happening between individual or groups of unidentified hackers and a private company, that ironically provides protection to both, the Israeli Defense Forces website and the Hamas’ al-Qassam paramilitary wing’s webpage.  

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