The Israeli government said today that since the beginning of its military operation in Gaza, cyber attackers have launched more than 44 million attempts to disrupt the operation of various Israeli government websites, but were only successful in knocking out one site for a short period.
"One hacking attempt was successful and took down a site for a few minutes," Carmela Avner, the Chief Information Officer at the Finance Ministry, told ABC News. Avner said the website in question belongs to a "small unit of one of the ministries," but declined to comment further.
Israeli Finance Minister Dr. Yuval Steinitz ordered the government CIO unit to operate in emergency mode but said he remains confident in its abilities.
"We are reaping the fruits on the investment in recent years in the development of computerized defense systems, but we have a lot of work in store for us," he told reporters during a visit to the Government Computing Center in Jerusalem.
The Prime Minister's office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the President's residence were among the government websites targeted. Israeli government websites are a common target of cyber attacks, Avner said, but the sheer volume this time around indicated a clear escalation during the Gaza operation.
The dramatic spike comes after the loose hacking collective Anonymousannounced online that it would be targeting Israeli websites "in retaliation for the mistreating of people in Gaza and other areas."
Anonymous, the same group that reportedly took out the CIA's public website for a few hours in February, claimed it had attacked approximately 10,000 Israeli websites, both government and private.
Avner said most of the attacks on the government websites were designed to overload the site servers with excessive data. One method of doing that, known as a Distributed Denial of Service (DDos) attack, is a fairly rudimentary tactic historically favored by Anonymous.
Tweeting under the hashtag "OpIsrael" after the name it had given to its campaign, Anonymous claimed to have disrupted service on dozens of private Israeli websites, including the website for the Bank of Jerusalem and the local servers for news outlet MSN and search engine Bing. Both MSN and Bing's Israeli home pages appeared to have experienced trouble earlier Monday but were functioning properly as of this report. The Bank of Jerusalem's website's homepage was functioning but its English section was inaccessible.
Anonymous also tweeted a link to what it presented as the personal contact information of more than 3,000 "donors to Israel," including members of the U.S. Congress. Much of the data appeared to be a compilation of publicly available contact information.
As the real-world military operation gained steam last week, Anonymous posted what it dubbed as a "Gaza Care Package," containing information in Arabic and English about how to circumvent Israeli online surveillance by shielding IP addresses and how to set up alternative Wi-Fi access in the event of an internet shutdown.
Anonymous made the care package apparently in response to what it called Israeli threats to cut off electricity and internet access in Gaza. That threat was not reported elsewhere and there have been no reports of internet or power outages in Gaza so far.
"For far to long, Anonymous has stood by with the rest of the world and watched in despair the barbaric, brutal and despicable treatment of the Palestinian people in the so called 'Occupied Territories' by the Israel Defense Force," Anonymous said in its statement last week. "Like so many around the globe, we have felt helpless in the face of such implacable evil. And today's insane attack and threatened invasion of Gaza was more of the same."
Israeli officials said they are acting only to defend Israel from rocket and terrorist attacks by militants in Gaza.
"We will not accept a situation in which Israeli citizens are threatened by the terror of rockets. No country would accept this, Israel will not accept it," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week.
More than 100 Palestinians, including women and children, and three Israelis have been killed since the start of Israel's Operation Pillar of Defense last week, according to international news reports.