Hezbollah likely behind malware that attacked Israeli servers

Malware program codeBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A report by a major Israeli computer security firm claims that “a Lebanese entity”, possibly Hezbollah, was behind a cyberespionage operation that targeted companies connected to the Israeli military. In late March, Israeli computer security experts announced they had uncovered an extensive cyberespionage operation that targeted computers in Israel, and to a lesser extent in the United States, Britain, Turkey and Canada. The cyberespionage operation, dubbed VOLATILE CEDAR by Israeli computer security experts, was allegedly launched in 2012. It employed a sophisticated malicious software, also known as malware, codenamed EXPLOSIVE. One Israeli security expert, Yaniv Balmas, said the malware was not particularly sophisticated, but it was advanced enough to perform its mission undetected for over three years.

It is worth noting that, during the period of operation, the EXPLOSIVE malware kept surreptitiously updating itself with at least four different versions, which periodically supplemented the original malware code. Additionally, once the discovery of the malware was publicized in the media, security experts recorded several incoming messages sent to the installed malware asking it to self-destruct. These clues point to a level of programming and operational sophistication that exceeds those usually found in criminal cyberattacks.

According to Israeli computer security firm CheckPoint, there is little doubt that the source of the malware was in Lebanon, while a number of programming clues point to Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah as “a major player” in the operation. In a report published this week, CheckPoint reveals that most of the Israeli targets infected with the malware belong to data-storage and communications firms that provide services to the Israel Defense Forces. According to one expert in the firm, the malware designers took great care to avoid “a frontal attack on the IDF network”, preferring instead to target private entities that are connected to the Israeli military. More specifically, the web shells used to control compromised servers after successful penetration attempts were of Iranian origin. Additionally, the initial command and control servers that handled EXPLOSIVE appear to belong to a Lebanese company.

The head of CheckPoint’s security and vulnerability research unit, Shahar Tal, told Ha’aretz newspaper: “We are not experts on international relations and do not pretend to analyze the geopolitical situation in Lebanon”. But these attacks originated from there, and were specifically designed to infiltrate “systems that are connected to the IDF”, he added.

Israeli ex-military, intelligence leaders, join forces against Netanyahu

Sunday's press conference in IsraelBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Nearly 200 former senior officials in Israel’s intelligence and security services called a public press conference on Sunday and denounced the foreign policy of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli leader, who has been in office since 2009, has spoken out repeatedly against attempts by the United States and other Western countries to improve relations with Iran. As his critics held the press conference, the Israeli prime minister was leaving Tel Aviv for a controversial trip to the US, where he is scheduled to speak before a joint session of Congress. He was invited by senior Republicans in Washington, who, like Netanyahu, are sharply critical of US President Barack Obama’s policy on Iran. Netanyahu is also expected to address the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which is widely considered the most powerful arm of the pro-Israel lobby in the US. But President Obama has refused to meet with the Israeli Prime Minister, whose trip to DC is seen as an attempt by the Republican Party to subvert the US leader’s foreign-policy agenda on Iran.

On Sunday, notable figures from Israel’s military and intelligence establishment gathered at a press conference to deliver sharp criticism against Netanyahu’s controversial trip to Washington and to blast the Israeli leader for allegedly injuring the Jewish state’s relationship with America. Among the numerous speakers at the press conference was the decorated veteran of Israel’s 1973 war, Major General Amnon Reshef. He appealed to Netanyahu to scarp his trip to the US and stop criticizing the Obama Administration “before it is too late”. The rift between Washington and Tel Aviv “cannot be accepted”, said Reshef, as it poses “clear and present dangers to the very security of Israel”.

Another speaker at the event, former deputy director of the Mossad, Major General Amiram Levin, told reporters that it was not easy for him to criticize Netanyahu, who had served under him in the Israel Defense Forces. But the Israeli prime minister’s actions left him with no choice, he said. Instead of working with President Obama to resolve the dispute with Iran, Netanyahu had chosen to “go there and stick his thumb in his eye”, said Levin. Such actions, aside from offending Obama, damage Israel’s image in the US among Americans. The latter, even when they are friends of Israel, said Levin, “are Americans first and foremost”. The former Mossad official concluded by saying that, without the strong support of Washington, Israel would be “far weaker strategically” and would allow Iran to get closer to building a nuclear arsenal.

A spokesman for the Likud party, which backs Prime Minister Netanyahu, dismissed the press conference as “a propaganda vehicle of the left”, whose campaign “is funded with millions of American dollars originating from left-wing circles abroad”.

Israeli intelligence ‘critical’ in US case for strikes on Syria

Regional map of SyriaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
As the United States prepares to make its case in support of military action against the Syrian government, there are reports that Israeli intelligence will be playing “a central role in cementing” Washington’s argument. The White House indicated this week that it is prepared to launch military strikes against Syrian government targets, following reports that chemical weapons were fired at a Damascus suburb. Western intelligence sources suggest that last week’s chemical weapon strikes killed “hundreds of people” and wounded “at least a thousand”, including many civilians. Interestingly, while the US administration of President Barack Obama is collating the evidence of the Syrian government’s complicity in the attacks, reports from Israel have identified even the Syrian Army unit that allegedly fired the chemical rounds. Late last week, Israel’s Channel 2 claimed that the attack was launched by the 155th Brigade of the Syrian Army’s 4th Armored Division, which is known to be commanded by Maher al-Assad, brother of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. German media reports suggest that the source of the claim was Unit 8200, the electronic interception division of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). It is believed that the IDF has in its possession intercepted conversations between senior Syrian military commanders allegedly discussing last week’s chemical attack. Most analysts appear confident that Israel would play no visible part in a possible US-led military strike on Syria. But many senior Israeli cabinet ministers are voicing strong support for direct Western military involvement in the Syrian civil war. On Tuesday, Naftali Bennett, Israel’s Economy and Commerce Minister, said the time for intervention had come: “it cannot be that less than 100 kilometers from Israel, children are being gassed to death and we let the world remain silent and ignore it”, he told reporters. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #845

Lianne PollakBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
►►Mideast envoy Blair’s adviser is former Israeli intel officer. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is an official Middle East envoy for the Quartet, the group that represents the US, Russia, the United Nations and Europe. In his role as a mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, he is supposed to be politically neutral. But it turns out that one of his principal advisors, Lianne Polak, is an Israeli former army intelligence officer who has led intelligence teams in the Israel Defense Forces.
►►Who is the New Egyptian Intelligence Minister? Last week, a presidential order saw the appointment of General Muhammad Farid as the new head of Egypt’s General Intelligence Service. A profile of this unknown person reveals the close ties he had with those at the top of the Mubarak administration. His previous role was as the chairman of the Administrative Control Authority, which deals with investigating corruption in governmental agencies and public funds, as well as fighting organized crime. Farid was appointed to this role in 2004 by Hosni Mubarak.
►►Five unanswered questions about the NSA’s surveillance programs. Although the US government has disclosed some additional details about the programs in response to the leaks, important questions remain about the nature and scope of the surveillance programs. They include: 1. What other data is being collected under the USA PATRIOT Act? 2. How broad are the programs? 3. What’s the legal rationale? 4. Is the NSA still collecting email records? 5. Are there other programs that we don’t know about?

Israel spy agency has presence in Syria, says senior rebel general

Regional map of SyriaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Israel is one of several countries that maintain a significant intelligence presence inside Syria, according to the top commander of the Syrian rebel forces. General Salim Idriss, Chief of Staff for the Free Syrian Army, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that the Jewish state has “many, many” intelligence officers in various parts of Syria. The Arab country has been rocked since 2011 by a violent civil war, which has cost the lives of at least 60,000 people. Idriss was responding to comments made earlier this week by Brigadier General Itai Brun, senior intelligence analyst for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Brun, who heads the Division for Research and Analysis of the IDF’s Military Intelligence Directorate, was speaking at a conference hosted in Tel Aviv, Israel, by the Institute for National Security Studies. He told an audience of intelligence experts that the IDF was “quite certain” that the Syrian government headed by President Bashar al-Assad had resorted to the use of chemical weapons against rebel forces on at least one instance. According to Brun, footage obtained by the IDF of rebel casualties from a March 19 attack by Syrian government forces, pointed to the use of sarin nerve gas. He referred to evidence such as the victims’ dilated pupils and “the foam coming out of their mouths” as strong proof of the use of weaponized sarin nerve gas in the battlefield. Responding to Brun’s allegations, General Idriss suggested that Syrian government forces had used chemical weapons repeatedly in a variety of locations, including Aleppo, Homs, and the outskirts of capital Damascus. Read more of this post

Mossad, IDF ‘resisted order’ to prepare for Iran war in 2010

Ehud Barak and Gabi AshkenaziBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The heads of Israel’s army and main spy agency resisted an order issued by the Israeli Prime Minister to prepare for an all-out military attack on Iranian nuclear installations in 2010, according to a report aired today. According to Monday’s edition of Uvda (Fact), a popular investigative program on Israel’s Channel 2 television, the command to prepare for an attack was given by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister of Defense Ehud Barak. The two men delivered the order to a meeting of senior cabinet ministers, telling them that the Israeli military’s preparedness level would be elevated to ‘P plus’, effective immediately. According to Uvda, ‘P plus’ meant that the Israeli armed forces should prepare to take military action at a moment’s notice. However, the then-Director of Israeli spy agency Mossad, Meir Dagan, who was present at the meeting, asked to speak and, according to Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, which said it has seen the Uvda program, “came out sharply” against both Netanyahu and Barak. He told those present that elevating the military preparedness to ‘P plus’ was something that technically could only be decided at a meeting of Israel’s Political-Security Cabinet. Also known as “the inner cabinet”, the group, which consists of over a dozen Ministers and is led by the Prime Minister, is tasked with outlining and implementing Israel’s foreign and defense policy. Dagan told the two men that “only the [inner] cabinet is authorized to decide this” and warned them that they were “likely to make an illegal decision to go to war”. Dagan’s objection was later reinforced when General Gabi Ashkenazi, then-leader of the Israel Defense Forces, told the Prime Minister that the Israeli army was not ready to elevate its preparedness level to a ‘P plus’. Read more of this post

Israel admits assassinating Palestinian commander in Tunisia

Abu JihadBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Authorities in Israel have authorized the publication of an interview acknowledging Israel’s role in the assassination of a senior Palestinian military commander in Tunisia in 1988. The target of the assassination was Khalil al-Wazir, better known as Abu Jihad, one of the co-founders of Fatah, the secular wing of the Palestinian Liberation Organization chaired by Yasser Arafat. In the 1960s and 1970s, Abu Jihad rose within the ranks of Fatah and eventually became commander of its armed wing, known as al-Assifa. However, he was killed on April 16, 1988, when a group of unidentified gunmen stormed his villa in Tunisian capital Tunis, before managing to slip away. In the past 23 years, the Israeli intelligence services have been repeatedly singled out as prime suspects in Abu Jihad’s assassination. Nearly 15 years ago, Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronot announced that it had secured an interview with an Israeli commando who had a leading role in the operation and had been the one who fired the shots that killed the Fatah commander. But the interview was blocked from publication by the Israeli military censors, who, under Israeli law, have the power to prevent the airing of information that might harm national security. In 2000, however, the commando, Nahum Lev, died in a motorcycle accident, which prompted the Israeli newspaper to renew its application for the ban on the interview to be lifted. This week, Israeli authorities officially lifted the ban, which allowed Yedioth Ahronot to run the interview with Lev. The airing of the interview was coupled by a more substantial account of the operation, which appeared in the specialist Israel Defense magazine. According to the article, the operation was planned over several months by the Israeli covert action agency Mossad and the Sayaret Matkal, a special forces unit of the Israel Defense Forces. It involved 26 commandos who allegedly reached the Tunisian shore on rubber boats. Several of them walked the streets of Tunis disguised as women tourists. Read more of this post


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