The covert cyber war that has been raging between Iran and Israel for years may be shifting to open battles testing the offensive and defensive capabilities of the belligerents following the announcement by an Iranian group of hackers early on Friday that they launched a series of cyber-attacks on Israel’s rail infrastructure on July 14.
In the latest development, a group that goes by the name Cyber Avengers claimed in a statement that it targeted more than 150 industrial servers of Israel’s railways earlier this month, affecting operations at 28 train and subway stations. The statement was published by Telegram channels that some media reports have associated with Iran’s revolutionary guards (IRGC).
According to the statement, a “major cyber operation” was launched on July 14 at 1.20am (2050GMT), the same time that the airstrikes were launched that killed Iranian military commander General Qassem Soleimani in early January.
The cyber operation continued for 10 days, ending July 24. The group further declared that the “worst is yet to come,” suggesting that the cyber warfare between the two countries is likely to escalate.
The group also released a map of Israel’s rail network identifying the 28 stations that were targeted, including the major transport hubs of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University and Ben Gurion.
More than six days after the operation ended, the group claimed that operations at the stations targeted by the cyber-attack were still being adversely affected owing to “severe damage to equipment and infrastructure.”
The aim of the operation, the anonymous group said, was to “show that we can plan the collision of tens of trains if we so wish.”
Earlier this month the same group claimed responsibility for massive power outages in Israel. The claim could not be substantiated, according to cyber experts.
Previously, a barrage of cyber-attacks on Israel’s water infrastructure had been linked to cyber groups operating in Iran, even though both sides have refused to officially confirm or deny the reports. The attacks occurred in April and affected a number of wastewater treatment plants, pumping stations and sewage water units throughout Israel.
The attacks, according to cyber experts, were carried out by hacking into the computer software of water pumps after routing through servers to hide the source of attacks.
In May, a bustling port in southern Iran was hit by a cyber-attack, affecting traffic around the port for days. The attack was blamed by officials on “foreign hackers,” without providing further details.
Most recently, throughout June and July there have been a series of mysterious fires and explosions at around a dozen military and industrial installations in Iran, in one case claiming 19 victims at a health clinic in Teheran. The incidents have raised the suspicion of a campaign of sabotage being conducted by foreign groups, either directly or through providing logistical and technical support to internal dissidents. Iran’s government has dismissed the speculation, at the same time declaring that if evidence is found that proves foreign involvement the country will retaliate accordingly.
The incident at the Natanz nuclear plant earlier this month has been particularly curious. Iran’s top security body said it determined the “cause” but refused to divulge details for “security reasons.”
The latest cyber operation by an anonymous group, many believe, is part of the ongoing cyber war between the two long-time adversaries.
Hussain Estahdadi, Iranian journalist and cyber warfare analyst, in a post on Twitter said Israel has been “bluffing about its cyber security capabilities for the past decade.”
“How on earth could they not realize only a single one of these cyber-attacks on their railway system.” LINK
While nothing can be taken for granted in the deluge of claims and counter-claims and confirm nothing deny nothing statements that characterize the permanent state of psychological warfare between Israel and Iran, it appears that they may be moving towards an open test of strength and capabilities in the cyber domain.
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