REPORTING FROM JERUSALEM -- The website for Tel Aviv's stock exchange was shut down for hours on Monday after a hacker who identified himself as a Saudi announced that a pro-Palestinian group called Nightmare had targeted the site.
El Al Airline, also named by the hacker OxOmar as a target, preemptively closed down its own website, directing visitors to a page with a statement that it was under maintenance. In addition, problems were reported on the sites of a few small Israeli banks.
Monday's incidents were the latest in a series of attacks on Israeli websites kicked off earlier this month by a hacker who snagged thousands of credit card numbers from a poorly protected site associated with an online shopping business.
The attacks didn't interfere with trading on the stock exchange nor flights at El Al. The hacker or hackers didn't break into the stock market site but rather bombarded it with requests for contact, which simulates busy traffic and results in denial of service.
Yoni Shemesh, a deputy director at the stock exchange in charge of technological systems, told Israeli media that the exchange was familiar with such attacks and was on alert Monday morning. Trade mechanisms are protected, he said, but the institution's high profile makes it an attractive target even if it's mostly the exchange's image that suffers.
Tal Pavel, an expert on the Internet in the Middle East, warned that damage could far exceed image if hackers got into the systems actually controlling trade or air traffic. While he called this an "apocalyptic vision," the potential for danger is clear. Pavel said the attacks could continue "even if only for the reason that these kind of actions virtually beg for counterattacks and retaliation."
Indeed, others have joined in what could become a free-for-all contest between Jewish and Arab hackers seeking to prove their professional prowess. If OxOmar says he has 1 million credit card numbers, a pro-Israel hacker who calls himself Hannibal claims he has the passwords for 10 million Iranian bank accounts.
So far, the situation appears to involve Israel, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, potentially Iran and probably other locations. Israeli media reported Monday evening that the Bank of Israel recommended that banks block access to their sites from servers located in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Algeria. A number of banks have decided to block all access to their sites from abroad.
The latest to jump into the fray is Hamas in the Gaza Strip, whose spokesman Sami abu Zuhri issued a statement saluting Arab hackers and calling on them to crank up the cyber-war against Israel and open "a new front against the occupation."
And according to Cyber War News, OxOmar is planning to form a jihadist hackers' group. "Please join us to fight against Israel," he reportedly invited like-minded hackers with particular skills in an Internet post.
-- Batsheva Sobelman
Photo: A man leaves the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange on Monday. Hackers disrupted the exchange's website in a deepening regional cyber war. Credit: Oliver Weiken / European Pressphoto Agency