23 October 2012: the Israeli police finds out all of its computers have been infiltrated and compromised. Worst of all, it has taken them a whole week to find out and the malware has spread to other Israeli government departments. The result is taking down all the servers of the Israeli police, cutting off Internet access and banning the use of USB sticks – which lasts for an additional week. In February 2014, two years later, the same thing happens again as hackers breach the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria, the government agency that deals with all administrative matters in area A in the West Bank. Later, according to the network security company FireEye, the attacks are linked to Gaza Hacker Team.
Little has been written about this peculiar team, which has existed for almost a decade now. According to themselves, the team was established in 2007, but it is difficult to find attacks from that year and the frequency and strength of the attacks seems to have been rather low for the first few years. One of the earliest reports of their successful attacks was that of the Israeli Kadima party – then led by the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert – on 13 February 2008. But by 2012 Gaza Hacker Team had developed and managed to make several headlines in Israel and the rest of the world with thousands of sites hacked.
During my interviews with Gaza Hacker Team, mr.leon explained the composition and organization of the group, which can be described as the following with a top-down hierarchy:
1.The leadership (al-qiyāda) consisting of three persons: mr.leon, Casper and Claw. All of them are Palestinians and residing in the Gaza Strip.
2.The team (al-farīq), which constitutes the whole Gaza Hacker Team, and for which the leadership is responsible. The members of the team are Palestinians in addition to several “associates” – hackers from other Arab countries.
3.Groups (majmūāt) which are specialized in their respective field, as one group’s responsibility is to attack the website itself (majmūā ikhtirāq al-mawāqi), while another group has the responsibility of hacking the setup and emails (majmūā ikhtirāq al-ajhiza wa al-īmaylāt). Thus, they explained that all the necessary experience was combined in the team.
However, mr.leon did emphasize that even though they were in the same team, not all the members knew each other and were only in touch through the use of the forum and various communication tools on the Internet. Thus, the organization of the hacktivists has a clear resemblance to other resistance groups and brigades in the line of organizational structure and secrecy – in order not to potentially compromise the rest of the organization.
An example is Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which operates with several cells within a hierarchy: one person in a particular cell (the middle man/mediator) knows one person in another cell above, but not the rest of its members. In that cell, again, another mediator has contact with another cell, but not the rest of its members. Hence, if one cell gets compromised the whole structure of the organization will not be threatened. The same theoretically applies to Gaza Hacker Team.
It should, however, be emphasized that this kind of organizational structure is not limited to Palestinian brigades. All of these features (cell divisions, anonymity and limited contact across organizational units or divisions) are rather typical of clandestine organizations which in the majority of the cases are motivated by the need for security. The dilemma is usually that more open organizational structures allow a better flow of information and a greater efficiency, but simultaneously become more vulnerable to repression.
Yet we should not take the similarities too far, as if Gaza Hacker Team suddenly emerges as some bizarre online version of Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The resemblance is there, but it is simultaneously a feature of organizing anonymously on the Internet where the anonymous nature of the Internet itself makes it possible.
As with other hacktivist groups such as KDMS Team, to which I will return later, Gaza Hacker Team made it perfectly clear that it did not have any membership of or affiliation with Palestinian political parties: “We do not belong to any movement … We are youth from Gaza.” This included emphasizing that they did not have any support from any political faction, group or movement nor did they have any interest in cooperating with any group other than hacktivist teams from within Palestine and outside, including the Arab world and the rest of the global cyber-community.
A personal friend of mine, and fatāwī (Fatah-member) since childhood, described the statements as “tactically smart and very clever”:
He considered it a move to gain political support from the entire Palestinian community.
It should nevertheless be noted that at the end of 2014/beginning of 2015 the first thing that welcomed you on the Gaza Hacker Team’s forum was two soldiers with the headbands of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigade and the al-Quds Brigade – the armed factions of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. However, as I discuss later on, this does not mean that Gaza Hacker Team has a secret affiliation with these two parties. Rather it represents a certain approach and way to brand itself in the struggle against the occupation. Furthermore, it should be noted that the header of the website is constantly being changed.
Nevertheless, Palestinian hacktivism as an independent factor is a feature within the Palestinian resistance which could possibly transcend the notion of political parties (including their armed brigades) alone being the main agents for the liberation of the homeland – where resistance is not only a duty but also a possibility for every Palestinian who wishes to be involved. Thus, the hackers in Gaza Hacker Team seemingly recreate and transform themselves from “normal and unimportant” Palestinian youths to autonomous subjects in the resistance where the universal right to resist occupation is not limited to and/or monopolized by decisions made in political parties such as Hamas, Fatah, PFLP, PLO and others. When one loses the belief in the political parties’ ability to be agents of resistance, this should create a breeding ground for independent, spontaneous movements that are not at the mercy of the Palestinian political establishment.
It should be emphasized that this development is nothing new in Palestine, nor is it limited to Palestinian hacktivists. One example is from 2011, as a new and different youth current emerged in Gaza with the name Gaza Youth Breaks Out (GYBO). Drawing the attention of the whole world, the group refused to have any links with the Palestinian establishment and criticized it heavily. In their manifesto the group condemned the Israeli occupation, but also the corruption and incompetence of Fatah and Hamas, stating: “Fuck Israel. Fuck Hamas. Fuck Fatah.”
This is an extract from Digital Jihad, by Erik Skare.