In what authorities see as an increasing phenomenon, pro-Palestinian hackers disrupted three Jewish Web sites in three parts of the world last Sunday afternoon, including that of the Dix Hills Jewish Center on Long Island.
The other two sites hacked were those of the London Jewish Chronicle and the Israeli Web site, Israelweather.il. Both appear to have been struck by the same hacker; the same page was posted on both. The message, in English and Turkish, was in support of “Palestinian Mujahaeeds” (terrorists) and contained a Palestinian flag and anti-Semitic rantings.
The attack on the Dix Hills Jewish Center site was different. It claimed the site had been “hacked by CW Komando for Palestine.” And in English were the words: “Death to Israel.”
Paul Goldenberg, national director of the Secure Community Network, the official address for Homeland Security initiatives of the organized Jewish community, said there has been an “increase in cyber hits against Jewish installations globally. … We don’t consider any incident of this nature local; we consider it national because if they could hit one institution today, they could hit another tomorrow.”
And, Goldenberg said, something else is new: “They are now randomly going after Jewish sites — Jewish institutions and organizations in the United States — to hack them to spread their anti-Israel message. There is a direct correlation between Jewish groups in the United States and those in the State of Israel. People love to try to separate them — saying that because someone hates Israel doesn’t mean he hates Jews — but that is not true.
“Those who are striking out now are striking out at Jewish targets, whether or not the target is directly related to Israel. It could even be a Jewish social service agency that has no overseas connections, and yet those who strike in the name of jihad or any extremist organization will go after them.”
The last known cyber attack on a Jewish institution in the United States occurred earlier this month in Boulder, Colo., when someone hacked into and defaced with anti-Semitic messages the Web sites of two Boulder synagogues and the Boulder Rabbinic Council.
In a statement, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said its investigation “revealed that while the synagogue sites were defaced with anti-Semitic language, there were no threats to life or property. Investigators found the origin of these attacks originated abroad. While the comments and actions were disturbing and unacceptable, there is no reason to believe that person poses a physical threat to the Boulder community. At this time and based on the information gathered to date in the investigation, federal charges are not expected to be pursued.”
Investigators were able to track down the hacker and will be monitoring his activities, according to law enforcement officials.
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said these cyber attacks “should not be dismissed or made light of. Some of these attacks are no different than pasting a swastika on a door.”
Rabbi Howard Buechler, spiritual leader of the Dix Hills Jewish Center, a Conservative congregation of about 600 members (including this reporter), said he found it “tragic to see people filled with hate spew their hatred across the world. If they would channel their venom and poison into building bridges instead of erecting walls of hate, how different our world would be.”
The hacker of the Dix Hills Jewish Center Web site claimed to be named CW Komando. A person with that Facebook account lives in Turkey. A Palestinian and Turkish flag were both posted on the hacker’s Web page, acting as bookends for pictures of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and Sheik Ahmed Yasin, the founder of Hamas who served as its spiritual leader until his assassination by an Israeli helicopter gunship in 2004.
The page also contained a picture of masked men in blue hats carrying a Palestinian flag and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. Other pictures — all in bright, vivid colors — showed masked men preparing to launch a rocket, a masked crowd watching the burning of an American flag, men kneeling on prayer mattresses with rifles slung over their backs, and Israeli soldiers apprehending Palestinian men. Arabic writing was scrawled across one of the pictures.
The hacker of Sunday’s other two sites was also reportedly traced to Turkey. Stephen Pollard, editor of the Jewish Chronicle, said the hacker caused no apparent damage. The paper’s Web site was forced to shut down for several hours while attempts were made to restore it. Pollard declined to speculate when asked by the Associated Press whether he believed the diplomatic row that erupted last week between Israel and Turkey had played any role in the attack.
Rabbi Buechler said congregants spotted their hacked Web site at around 1 p.m. He said technicians at the congregation’s Web server took down the offensive page within about a half-hour and installed additional safeguards to prevent a repeat attack. Suffolk County police, the FBI and the Secure Community Network were notified.
The FBI is encouraging those who have been a victim of an Internet crime to make a report to: www.ic3.gov.
Hoenlein pointed out that there are “tens of thousands of Web sites spreading messages of hate,” and that their authors are more elusive than those who carry out physical assaults. He noted that when he used a Jewish Web site to send a video message of support to the Iranian people a year ago, hackers continually disrupted it.
“Eventually, so much money was spent on protecting the site that the hackers just gave up,” he said, adding that the hackers were traced to Iran.
SCN has posted an alert on its Web site, www.scnus.org, advising all Jewish institutions to take steps to protect themselves from being hacked. Among the suggestions: Keep your firewall turned on and up to date; ensure any unnecessary open ports are closed whenever possible; install and/or update antivirus software; be careful what you download; any computer that is used for critical computing for your organization — such as banking, Web site administration, etc. — should not be used to browse the Internet for any reason or used for e-mail.
Goldenberg said should a Jewish organization’s Web site be hacked, local police and the FBI should be notified immediately. He said the hacked Web page should not be removed until advised to do so by authorities to give them a chance to trace its origins. n