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Middle East hacker wars

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The two-week-old hacker war between Israel and Saudi Arabia perfectly illustrates how the Internet has democratized the field of international intrigue.

Since Jan. 3, hackers in the two countries have had a merry time flipping the cyber bird at each others’ financial institutions and even (potentially) threatening the security of nuclear installations and other vital infrastructure.

This isn’t the first example of computer hacking between unfriendly nations—only the first of the new year. Last month came news that Chinese hackers broke into the U.S. Chamber of Commerce database and spent up to a year roaming there undetected, compromising the data of up to three million members. The Chinese government denied any involvement in the attacks, just as the Russian government had earlier denied involvement in the hacker attacks that disabled websites in the country of Georgia during the Russian/Georgian war of 2008.

And those governments are probably telling the truth. In the old days, national intelligence agencies with enormous budgets could wreak havoc in countries they didn’t like, but ordinary people generally couldn’t.

   

Now, a single bored but bright teenager with time to kill after school can unleash the sort of shenanigans formerly reserved for heads of state with national budgets and entire militaries at their disposal.
 
On Jan. 3, a Saudi Arabian hacker calling himself “0xOmar” posted the credit card numbers and personal information of about 15,000 Israelis as part of a campaign to, he said, make “Israeli credit cards untrustable in the world.”

Israeli hackers responded by posting credit card info for Saudi Arabians, which, in turn, inspired 0xOmar to release even more Israeli credit card numbers.

The battle has not been limited to credit cards: last Monday, hackers sympathetic to Palestinians launched denial-of-service attacks against websites for the Tel Aviv stock exchange and Israel’s national airline, El Al, so Israelis responded in kind against the stock exchange in Saudi Arabia and securities exchange in Abu Dhabi.

More ominously, Anonymous joined the fray against Israel and expanded it beyond the world of finance, posting industrial-access codes which, it says, will let saboteurs disable Israeli water supplies and nuclear facilities.

So far, nobody knows exactly who 0xOmar is. An Israeli student claimed to have identified him as a 19-year-old Emirati studying in Mexico, but 0xOmar posted a taunting rebuttal:

“I saw some stupids said they've found me, one in Mexico, one in Riyadh, one in Dubai, look, let me explain my method, as I know no one can find me … I use a really complicated hand-made method for hiding myself, so if you reach to Dubai, Mexico, Riyadh, Minsk, Helsinki, New York, Tel-Aviv, Haifa, Tokyo, Moscow, etc., excellent! You found one of my poor victims.”

Whether or not that’s true, 0xOmar’s tone is another reminder that, despite the very serious financial and national-security implications of the Saudi-Israeli Hacker War of 2012, at its heart it’s not a clash of nation-states using their sophisticated military and intelligence networks in hope of shaping history; it’s (probably) primarily teenage students striving to piss each other off.

Photo by Arenamontanus