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Billboards in Israel were briefly hacked to display pro-Hamas messages as cyberwar ramps up

Israel supporters hold flags as they protest, following Hamas’ biggest attack on Israel in years, in Bogota, Colombia October 9, 2023.

Luisa Gonzalez | Reuters

Cybersecurity threats in Israel are mounting amid the Israel-Hamas war, including two hijacked smart billboards that briefly showed pro-Hamas content, and a cyberattack on a school that published lots of of hundreds of non-public records.

Hackers accessed two smart billboards in or near Tel Aviv for a couple of minutes on Thursday and “managed to modify the commercials into anti-Israeli, pro-Hamas footage,” Gil Messing, chief of staff at Check Point Software Technologies, a cybersecurity firm based in Tel Aviv, told CNBC, adding the footage featured “mainly the Israeli flag under fire … footage from Gaza, things like this.”

“We needed to open the network for a couple of minutes, and they need to’ve immediately penetrated it in that moment,” Eilon Rosman, CEO of CTV Media Israel, the corporate that owned the 2 billboards, told the media outlet Geektime on Thursday, in response to a CNBC translation.

Most cyberthreats that Check Point has seen since Saturday involve either defacement of internet sites or distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks for a temporary time frame, Messing told CNBC, adding the billboard incidents are “very marginal … while you compare it to the whole lot else that is been occurring here.”

Check Point tracks hacking groups on the dark web or on their Telegram pages, and the firm has seen threats of attacks on critical infrastructure, resembling water utilities, in response to one Telegram group message viewed by CNBC that threatens Mekorot, Israel’s top water management agency.

More than 40 groups are currently attempting, or say they’re attempting, cyberattacks, Messing said, adding these threats aren’t unusual.

“These individuals are threatening, not necessarily executing. … The motivation is more about creating fear and discomfort, not a lot about creating damage that is critical.”

The biggest cyberattack up to now this week involved Ono Academic College near Tel Aviv, Messing said. On Monday, a hacker group claiming to be from Jordan breached the private college’s system and published about 250,000 records of employees, students, former students and more on Telegram. The college subsequently needed to take its systems offline.

“Cyberattack experts investigated and discovered that information was leaked from our computer system. We are coping with the problem and are in contact with the national cyber authority and have also informed the authority liable for privacy protection,” the school said in an announcement translated by CNBC. “We estimate that our IT systems might be fully operational in the following few days.”

“This is a big attack,” Messing said.

More CNBC coverage of the Israel-Hamas war

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