Aviv Raff, chief technology officer at local cyber security firm Seculert, said that hackers managed to gain access and control 15 computers, including one belonging to the country's Civil Administration, for several days earlier this month.
The defence body monitors Palestinians working and living in Israeli-occupied territory, and sources at Reuters believe that the attack may have also targeted computers at companies “involved in supplying Israeli defence infrastructure.”
The hackers were able to infiltrate these devices by what appears to be a spear phishing campaign. They reportedly sent out emails pretending to be from the Shin Bet secret security service. The email offered an attachment which allowed the hackers to install Xtreme RAT, a remote access Trojan which enables cyber criminals to gain complete control over the infected device.
Israeli forces believe that Palestinians were behind the cyber attack as – while it was carried out from a US server – it bore some similarities in writing and composition with cyber assaults on Israeli computers over the course of the last year.
Seculert is, however, not sure what hackers did after gaining control of the PC.
“All we know is at least one computer at the Civil Administration was in control of the attackers; what they did we don't know.” Both Israeli and Palestinian authorities have refused to comment on the news.
Phil Barnett, VP of global accounts at Good Technology, told SCMagazineUK.com that the attack was “old school” social engineering, and added that it was a reminder that governments and organisations are facing new and old threats.
“Gaining control of computer systems via an email attachment is so old school that it is akin to breaking into the NSA headquarters with a trebuchet,” said Barnett. “The success of this social engineering technique to infiltrate systems highlights the danger of human error within cyber security defences. It is critical that employee decisions and instincts are supported by cyber technologies that caution their movements without restricting workflows.
“The potential for malware infection is increasingly significant as more entry points and devices are connecting to networks. The mobility of the 21st century calls for a new era of cyber defences, but this incident reminds us that we can't forget the old.”