REPORTING FROM JERUSALEM -- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently increased the amount of money Israelis could spend on Internet goods purchased abroad and imported without paying customs duties. The reason for expanding Israelis' use of EBay and other Web-shopping options was to encourage competitive prices in Israel and make a dent in the cost of living.
But Israelis won't be in a hurry to cyber shop this week, as thousands woke up Tuesday to find their credit card numbers and personal information published online.
Saudi hackers calling themselves Group-XP claimed they broke into a leading Israeli sports website and redirected users to a page where they could download a file containing the sensitive information.
The hackers claimed they published the personal and credit card information of nearly half a million Israelis. After poring over the lists, credit companies said the number was much lower. According to the Bank of Israel, about 15,000 credit cards were compromised.
The credit companies said they quickly blocked the cards and will replace them in coming days.
According to Yoram Hacohen, head of the Israeli Law, Information and Technology Authority -- a relatively new information-protection regulator -- the source of the information is most likely Israeli businesses that didn't sufficiently safeguard customer information.
The hackers may also have merged information from several sources and databases previously breached and published, Hacohen told Israeli radio.
The credit companies said customers will be reimbursed for any fraudulent purchases made with their cards, as part of the insurance paid for such cases. But the case has raised concerns about information security in Israel, where breaches can expose individuals to identity theft and security risks and the state to cyber terror.
A year ago, Israel had a taste of what a cyber attack on national infrastructure might look like when one of its cellular phone carriers crashed and left nearly a third of the country incommunicado.
The failure was later determined to be a malfunction and not an attack, but it may have helped lead to the establishment a few months later of the National Cyber Directorate, which coordinates the cyber-security efforts of government, national infrastructure and industry.
Israeli websites, including government sites, are frequent targets of hackers, often for political reasons.
Earlier this week, the Foreign Ministry's websites were reportedly hacked. In November, the websites of the Mossad, Israel's spy agency, and the Israel Defense Forces were inaccessible for a time, and others experienced problems for a day.
-- Batsheva Sobelman
Photo: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heads the weekly Cabinet meeting in his offices in Jerusalem on Dec. 25. Credit: Uriel Sinai / AFP/Getty Images