Israel was hit by a massive cyber offensive today. But unlike other attacks (APTs, criminal campaigns, etc.) to hit the nation, this one has been announced in advance.
It’s Anonymous’ annual OpIsrael attack, which has been taking place on April 7 every year since 2013. According to most Israeli researchers, the attack will fail. It won’t cause any major damage to state infrastructure or scare the Israeli public, and it definitely won’t “erase the Zionist devil from the Internet” (OpIsrael’s declared objective).
The annual operation, which generally consists of DDoS attacks, website defacement and attempts at data theft, has made Israeli users more aware of cyber risks, and acts as a sort of training day for local security companies.
The operation, which generally consists of DDoS attacks, website defacement and attempts at data theft, has had some positive effects: It has made Israeli users more aware of cyber risks, and acts as a sort of training day for local security companies. But this attack has another side, which might have a worldwide impact in the future.
The operation is organized by threat actors from mostly Muslim countries, and relies on quantity rather than quality. Highly skilled attackers who have access to advanced tools won’t waste their time on such a fruitless attack, as the only possible gain is helping spread political propaganda. Hacking is a business, and if there’s no money to be made, most cyber mercenaries aren’t interested.
OpIsrael’s organizers know this, so they try to enlist as many low-level operatives as they can to launch vast DDoS attacks against Israeli websites. But even this vector requires some technical skill, and many OpIsrael enthusiasts simply don’t have the know-how.
Sure, an individual who wants to engage in cybercrime can get the tools and training they need online, but only as long as they can a) reach the crimeware underground and b) pay up (as I’ve stated, this is a business). Even if said individual managed to install TOR and use it, they might not find the relevant crime store or be able to buy what they need.
It is true that crimeware prices are plummeting, and malware costs as little as a few dozen dollars, but this is not small change for everybody. Many of the hacktivists who want to take part in OpIsrael come from countries with weak economies — Indonesia, Malaysia, Syria, Egypt, etc. For an Indonesian activist who makes less than $750 a month, cyber training could be beyond their financial reach. And even if they had the money, they might be refused by crimeware sellers: Newcomer buyers might raise a shopkeeper’s suspicions, and be blocked or marked as possible moles. This is where OpIsrael 2016’s organizers step in.
Teach a man to fish
Unlike in previous years, #OpIsrael 2016 has a well-organized training program. It contains hacker groups dedicated to showing newcomers the ropes. Their keyword is accessibility: If a hacktivist wants to jump in, all they need to do is join the relevant Facebook groups, follow the right Twitter accounts (which are being advertised across social media) and declare their undying hatred for Israel, and they’re one of the gang. Sensitive attack details and advanced tools won’t be available to these new hacktivists for reasons of operational security, but they’ll receive DDoS training (available in several languages) and other necessary tools, free of charge. Interactions between newcomer hacktivists and their seasoned guides resemble those found in online support forums, but instead make use of several webchat channels and Telegram groups. Hacking lessons are given by experienced players, some of whom enjoy celebrity status in underground communities.
This training program solves OpIsrael’s main problem — mass recruitment. It also lets everybody who wants to get into cybercrime do so, for free.
The next cybercriminals
After this year’s OpIsrael’s dust settles, newcomer hacktivists will come away with a new, albeit very basic, skill set that will enable them to engage in cybercrime. Many DDoS attacks include an extortion element: Attackers can threaten targets with a massive DDoS attack, and launch a low-volume one just to prove their abilities. They can also pose as security researchers claiming to have identified an imminent DDoS attack, and request money in return for stopping the threat.
This is OpIsrael’s unseen effect: Thousands of people will receive professional cybercrime training, which could cause an increase in the volume of worldwide low-level attacks.
Security-focused organizations will know how to treat threats such as these, but most small businesses won’t. Many small businesses fear any disruption to their business process, especially at sensitive times (online stores on Black Friday, for example). Therefore, such businesses tend to give in to a criminal’s demands, since criminals usually won’t ask for more than a few hundred or perhaps a thousand dollars in bitcoin.
This is OpIsrael’s unseen effect: The fact that thousands of people will receive professional cybercrime training. These cybercriminals probably won’t settle for hacktivism for long, or hold their breath until 2017’s OpIsrael. Basic attack tools can easily work like gateway drugs on OpIsrael’s new graduates, who might turn to better tools and tactics and use them to threaten companies all over the world — not just in security-aware Israel.
Anonymous’ training operations could cause an increase in the volume of worldwide low-level attacks. And while these aren’t considered as dangerous as APTs, they currently comprise the lion’s share of cyber attacks and could inflict major damage on multiple industries.
Nitsan Saddan leads Cymmetria’s threat intelligence research and manages the company’s content. He is responsible for discovering new connections between threat actors, new attacker abilities and possible risk factors, in order to help produce better enterprise-grade cyber-deception methodologies. Prior to joining Cymmetria, Saddan worked for more than a decade as a journalist and editor at Israel’s largest news publications, covering the fields of cybersecurity, IT, VC and high-tech. Reach him @NITSAN_saddan.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.