A hacker group, apparently from an Arab country or countries, claimed on Wednesday that it had breached the Israeli WebGate company's server and gleaned information stored in its Web pages.
The hacking comes six months after a Saudi-based hacker group published the credit card numbers and personal details of what it claimed were more than 400,000 Israelis on the Internet. Israeli credit card companies later said the number was closer to 15,000.
The new group said it would publish the information it gathered in stages, and has already released lists containing personal information, Facebook passwords, images of checks and credit card numbers belonging to thousands of Israelis.
The group published its intentions and allegedly hacked information on a Web page titled "Remember Emad," an apparent reference to Imad Mughniyeh, believed to have been Hezbollah's chief of intelligence and security and the mastermind of some of the organization's deadliest attacks on U.S. and Israeli targets. Mughniyeh was killed in 2008 in a car bombing in Damascus, which Hezbollah insists was caused by Israel. The Shiite terrorist group has repeatedly vowed to avenge his death.
Hackers wrote on the page: "WebGate is considered the 10th biggest Israeli data center. It hosts more than 6,000 Israeli domains and subdomains. Today we are going to publish the first part of its data. We have terabytes of data from WebGate, but uploading the whole chunk of data on our servers will take time, so we decided to publish them gradually."
The data published on Wednesday included an alleged list of a thousand user names, passwords and email addresses of Israel Broadcasting Authority forum members. A list of credit card numbers belonging to Israelis was also released, although some of the cards were known to have expired.
The hackers also claimed to have breached the page of the Presidential Conference, sponsored by President Shimon Peres, and revealed personal details about the WebGate administrator.
"This Russian-born guy is named Gershon Alvais. He is the admin of WebGate data center, and currently lives in Israel and has two children," they wrote.
The group uploaded an image of what they claimed was the WebGate administrator's identification card, a photo of the man with his two daughters and his Facebook user name and password.
A check conducted by Israel Hayom with large banks in the country revealed that the hackers' claims were unsubstantiated. "There was no breach of our secured databases," a senior bank official said.
A statement by the Bank of Israel on Wednesday said the bank was not aware of any theft of credit card details by any hacker using a name attributed to Mughniyeh. Senior bank officials called the claimed massive thefts "nonsense," and pointed out that bank representatives had not been asked to comment on the matter before a report on the incident by Channel 10.
"We are talking about only 30 valid Leumi Cards," a Leumi Card spokesman said. "The company's data security personnel quickly identified the files and immediately blocked access to the cards. The company stresses that no damage was caused to any of our clients, who are fully insured in any case. The company will contact those whose cards have been compromised and replace the cards with new ones."
A spokesman for Isracard said: "A file containing 1,500 data entries was published, 49 of which were identified as valid information of credit cards belonging to Isracard clients. The cards were immediately blocked and a message will be sent to the owners of the cards on Thursday."
A Cal (Israel Credit Cards) spokesman said: "A check that we did revealed that in files published by the hacker details of only 18 of our credit cards were exposed. The credit cards were blocked immediately and new cards will be delivered to our clients. The company will contact the relevant clients on Thursday."
Gershon Alvais and other WebGate personnel were not available for comment on Wednesday, and Israel Broadcasting Authority representatives did not comment on the report.
The cyberwar between Arab and Israeli hackers erupted in January when a Saudi hacker calling himself "0xOmar" leaked credit card details of Israelis. An Israeli hacker calling himself "0xOmer" retaliated by exposing the credit card information of hundreds of Saudi citizens, sparking a tit-for-tat exchange in the days and weeks that followed.
According to a Global Cyber Defense Report by McAfee and Security & Defense Agenda published in January, Israel, Finland and Sweden are the most cyberwar-ready nations in the world.
Israel, despite its robust rating, is allegedly the subject of 1,000 attempted hackings per minute, and has seen the websites of its major banks, newspapers and airlines temporarily put out of action by outside hackings.
For Israel, the mark of success in cyber-readiness is not the number of attempted attacks, but their damage. Isaac Ben-Israel, a senior security adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, praised the nation's security infrastructure in January, saying, "The hacktivist group Anonymous carries out lots of attacks but they don't cause much damage. The real threat is from states and major crime organizations."