What made an Israeli hacker terrorize Jewish centers worldwide?
Analysis: After arresting an Ashkelon resident over bomb threats to Jewish centers around the world, police investigators are trying to figure out his motive: Psychological issues, a childish search for an ego boost, or revenge over the fact that he was not drafted into the IDF?
The cooperation between the Israel Police and the FBI was so tight that the American cyber attaché—in addition to the agency's regular representative in Israel—closely accompanied the preparations for the arrest at the Israeli cyber unit last week and the subsequent questioning of the suspect. She was not permitted to be present in the interrogation room, so she remained in a separate room where she received information on the suspect's questioning, suggested lines of inquiry and asked for clarifications.
Talks between Israeli and American representatives have raised the possibility that the young suspect will be extradited to serve his sentence in the United States, as most of the offenses were committed there.
An American source familiar with the details of the investigation told Yedioth Ahronoth on Friday that over the past two and a half months, in an effort to help the investigation, the FBI deployed a network of virtual secret agents, professionally known as “avatars,” who have been active in the DarkNet, where the young Ashkelon resident operated. These are false virtual entities that the FBI has been keeping active for several years now in the dark area of the Web—where hackers, criminals and terrorists can be found—to make them appear authentic.
It was clear to the FBI from the very beginning that the threats originated in Israel. According to FBI officials, the suspect, who “may or may not have cooperated with someone,” made “clumsy” attempts to conceal the origin of his IP address. The suspect, it seems, got all his knowledge from online discussion forums and from writing numerous questions, including how to hide the origin of a virtual address, how to use a broadband antenna to access WiFi networks, and other questions about security procedures.
The American source stresses that there has been a rise in anti-Semitic attacks and threats in the US in the past year unrelated to the hacker’s actions. The arrest and the information that has been collected do not relate to all the complaints filed by Jewish organizations, and definitely not to the acts of vandalism in Jewish cemeteries across the country. In addition, the FBI has detected a rise in the violent racist discourse on social media.
According to the source, the FBI has no intention of changing the evacuation procedures of educational and public institutions in case of bomb threats, in spite of what has been discovered. “It was clear to us even before the arrest that these are usually false alarms, but we have no intention of taking a risk.”
Police investigators in Israel are looking into a number of possible motives for the hacker’s actions: From psychological issues, through a childish search for a boost to his ego, to a political motive. The political motive is less likely, as the investigation began following threats on schools in New Zealand, which paralyzed the educational system there but had nothing to do with Jewish institutions.
A hypothesis raised by the police is that the suspect was mad about not being drafted into the IDF and tried to restore his pride by taking revenge on a country system—any system, of any country.
Sources in the Israel Police, meanwhile, have argued that in light of the fact that a criminal who is not very sophisticated managed to cause so much damage, the police should be given the authority to collect cyber intelligence “like the Shin Bet and the Mossad.”