In what could open up a new chapter in how nations respond to crippling cyber attacks carried out by nation state actors, Israel recently announced that it carried out an airstrike on Hamas’ headquarters for cyber operations after the organisation carried out a cyber attack on Israeli assets.
“We thwarted an attempted Hamas cyber offensive against Israeli targets. Following our successful cyber defensive operation, we targeted a building where the Hamas cyber operatives work. HamasCyberHQ.exe has been removed,” Israeli Defence Forces posted on Twitter on 5th May.
The attack on Hamas’ headquarters for cyber operations located in the Gaza strip took place around the same time when Israeli forces carried out punitive airstrikes on buildings owned by Hamas after the organisation allegedly fired over 700 rockets on Israeli territory that resulted in the death of four Israeli citizens.
First IDF airstrike in response to a cyber attack
IDF tweeted that it had targeted over 350 terror sites that included weapon storage facilities, rocket launch sites, terror tunnels, military compounds, terror squads and operatives, command and training centres, and observation posts.
“After dealing with the cyber dimension, the Air Force dealt with it in the physical dimension. At this point in time, Hamas has no cyber operational capabilities,” said IDF spokesperson Brig. Gen. Ronen Manlis to ZDNet.
While it remains to be seen if Israel’s offensive action against Hamas’ cyber operations will deter the organisation from carrying out cyber attacks in future, it is also true that such actions cannot be taken against powerful nations that harbour or sponsor cyber criminals as any such attack could lead to a possible large scale conflict.
Which is why the United States, the UK, and the EU have decided to spend more on securing their critical infrastructure and other assets from cyber assets instead of fattening their defence budgets to respond to crippling cyber attacks. Engaging in a war with Russia, China or Iran could result in enormous losses both in terms of lives and the economy.
In October last year, The Times reported that in order to respond to sophisticated cyber attacks targeting the country’s critical infrastructure, the defence forces, and government organisations, Britain could spend as much as £250 million on an offensive cyber-force composed of around 2,000 personnel.
Britain to create new offensive cyber force
Sources told The Times that the upcoming cyber-force will be composed of experts from the military, security services, and industry and will not only be required to respond effectively to cyber threats from Russia, but also to deter criminal gangs, paedophile rings, and people-traffickers.
The creation of the offensive cyber force was inspired by Britain’s successful cyber-offensive against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria that involved British agencies disrupting cash transfers, disseminating fake news among terrorists, and using malware to block their access to data.
Last year, Attorney General Jeremy Wright also said that a hostile country cannot escape retaliation by hiding behind proxy groups after supporting targeted cyber attack on the UK’s critical infrastructure firms, adding that such attacks should be treated with as much seriousness as bombing raids.
He added that the use of cyber operations by a hostile state to manipulate the electoral system to alter the results of an election in another state, intervention in the fundamental operation of parliament, or in the stability of our financial system must surely be a breach of the prohibition on intervention in the domestic affairs of states.
“A breach of this principle of non-intervention provides victim states with the ability to take action in response that would otherwise be considered unlawful, but which is permissible if it is aimed at returning relations between a hostile state and the victim state to one of lawfulness and bringing an end to the prior unlawful act,” Mr. Wright added.