‘Advanced’ hackers targeted Palestinian officials, experts say

Feb. 13 (UPI) — Senior officials of the Palestinian Authority were targeted by a series of cyberattacks believed to have originated from the Gaza Strip, an Israeli security firm said Thursday.

Cybereason said in two reports Thursday its research team found evidence the hacks possibly involved the group MoleRATs, also known as the Gaza Cybergang, which has operated in Gaza since 2012. The MoleRATs group is affiliated with Hamas, a Palestinian Sunni-Islamic militant organization and de facto governing authority in the Gaza Strip that has at times conflicted with the Palestinian authority. MoleRATs are supported by Iranian cyber units, as well, Cybereason said.

The Palestinian Authority has in the past hacked the phones of Hamas leaders and released embarrassing recordings.

The Cybereason report said the hacker group appears to be politically motivated in targeting Palestinians who are likely involved in government. The MoleRATs commonly use “backdoors” in malicious files and trick their targets into opening them, the cyber experts noted. Those malicious files, they say, are often related to political affairs of interest to the region — like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the United States’ newly unveiled Mideast peace plan.

The analysis said, however, the hackers might only be posing as the MoleRATs to spy on Palestinian leadership. It noted that only a small group of state actors have hacking capability as sophisticated as the effort that targeted Palestinian officials — including the United States, Israel, Russia and China.

“We specifically emphasized that there are many groups that are active in the Mideast,” Cybereason said. “The data supports the idea that the Gaza-based group or someone who is very good at impersonating it, is behind the attack.”