The dangers of fighting on the ground have been compounded by the cyber arenas and social networks, where perhaps the most dangerous phenomenon of all is circulating – hostile elements that open fictitious profiles and try to extract sensitive intelligence information through them that can cause great damage to the state and even be lethal to our forces.
About a month ago, the IDF's Information Security Directorate revealed that it had foiled a phishing network of dozens of fake profiles that operated on social networks in order to extract information about IDF forces and activity, apparently originating in countries such as Iran, Russia, China and North Korea.
What is perhaps most frightening of all is the relative ease with which you can open a fictitious profile that will look and even act like a completely real profile. The method is simple - opening a profile does not require much more than basic knowledge of social networks. Photos can be stolen from existing accounts or from the web and can also be easily generated with AI-based apps and image generators.
Professional network operated by agents
The network was exposed by agents whose sole purpose was to provide information to Hamas. These agents operated fictitious profiles that appeared to be genuine, as did their conduct: they create conversations in chats, send messages and videos, and try to create romantic relationships with soldiers in an attempt to extract as much intelligence information from them as possible (names and locations of bases, for example, order of forces, deployment in the field, etc.).
The findings of the investigation revealed that the network contained dozens of fake profiles on social networks, with Instagram serving as the preferred target for these agents. According to estimates by information security sources, the scope of the attacks is hundreds to thousands of regular and reserve IDF soldiers.
"Noa Simon" - one of the fake profiles identified by the IDF, photo: IDF Spokesperson
IDF admits: The network caused considerable damage
In a conversation with Israel Hayom, a senior Military Intelligence source said, "For two months now, Israel has been engaged in a war that is also taking place in cyberspace. The IDF feels very well this fighting, which is very active and significant and unfortunately also causes considerable damage to the army."
"At Military Intelligence, we are responsible, among other things, for protecting IDF information from leakage. One of the things we discovered is a group that operates at unprecedented strengths, using a method of social engineering by creating fake profiles and avatars of very, very high quality. All in order to establish contacts with IDF soldiers and extract information from them."
"These profiles look and sound real, and unfortunately they also manage to fool soldiers and extract classified information from them, some more sensitive and some less sensitive. In any case, because of its power, this network manages to reach many people and build a broad picture of the situation that could seriously endanger the forces on the ground," the source claims.
"Liat Cohen" - another fake profile that looks completely credible, photo: IDF Spokesperson
Raising awareness among soldiers
The source adds, "Unlike classic cyber defense, where you know the type of attack and can stop it, fighting against such a method is very complicated. One of the things we did, beyond thwarting those fake profiles and taking them down from social networks, was also publishing their identities and correspondence with the soldiers, so that they would identify the characters they might have spoken to and know how to watch out for the future."
"It is important to understand that Hamas is assisted by anyone it can in this war, certainly in the cyber arena and social networks. We see many factors that help him, hostile elements with great power. There are methods of operation here that we have not yet encountered in terms of quality, strength and scope – and this is extremely dangerous."
"Shaked Brown" - a law student who loves to talk about human rights. , you guessed it, this is also a fake profile. Photo: IDF Spokesperson
"Social networks have become a tool in the hands of terrorist elements"
Yudi Baron, CEO of Kaleidoo, a computer communications company specializing in artificial intelligence and big data, says, "If a few years ago few people had Facebook; And TikTok, Instagram and Telegram didn't exist at all, but today the place of social networks is very significant."
"For the younger generation, this is the mainstream media, replacing news channels and content consumption. Terrorist organizations such as Hamas and other hostile elements take advantage of this fact, as well as the simplicity and ease of using social networks, and use them as part of their terrorist tools."
Yudi Baron, CEO of Kaleidoo, photo: courtesy of the company
"If a few years ago it was easy to identify fake profiles that used bad language, today they produce completely professional profiles. They use AI to professionally translate content, build a family tree, create a friend profile, and even perform actions that a real account holder does, such as online shopping," says Baron.
"They can build such a profile and keep it under the radar when it looks completely real, making it extremely difficult to detect and identify. Behind these profiles there are sometimes bots that respond, but there are those who sit behind them real people whose only job is to maintain these profiles. All of this has become very problematic."
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