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HomeNewsboxOld Espionage Ruse, With a Modern Twist: Israelis Say Hamas Used Online Seduction

Old Espionage Ruse, With a Modern Twist: Israelis Say Hamas Used Online Seduction

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Israeli soldiers in an exercise with laser-equipped rifles and an interactive screen at the Camp Tsur training base in southern Israel last year.

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Amir Cohen/Reuters

TEL AVIV — It usually started with a bit of cyberflirting. A direct message was sent through Facebook or another social network from an unknown woman to an Israeli soldier’s smartphone. Then, according to Israeli military officials, it developed into a chat in flawless Hebrew, heavily peppered with millennial slang.

“Good morning (smiley emoji),” one typical chat began.

“What’s up? Do we know each other?” the soldier replied.

Alluring photos soon followed. Only the correspondents were apparently not who they said they were.

Instead, senior Israeli intelligence officials said on Wednesday, they were Hamas operatives who set up fake profiles and trawled social networks, befriending naïve soldiers and enticing them to download applications that effectively turned their cellphones into tracking devices and tools for spying.

The assertions of the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity under Army rules, could not be independently verified. Hazem Kassem,a spokesman for Hamas, the Islamic militant group that holds sway in the Gaza Strip, declined to comment. “We do not want to respond to what some Israelis say about us,” he said.

Ibrahim Madhoun, a writer for Al-Resalah, a Hamas newspaper, said that Hamas would not stoop to such levels. “Creating women’s profiles to attract soldiers is against our Islamic values and teachings,” he said by telephone.

Briefing reporters on Wednesday at military headquarters in Tel Aviv, the intelligence officials said the technology was relatively simple.

One correspondent, “Albina Goren,” sent a photo of herself in a skimpy dress, blue sea in the background. “Amit Cohen” sent one of herself wearing red lipstick and shades, her brown mane flowing. Some of the fake friends gained the confidence of several administrators of closed social network groups used by soldiers and were invited to join.

They then sent links to an apps store with instructions to download what they said were video chat apps, like YeeCall and Wowo Messenger. When the soldiers tried to install and use the apps, they would not open, and the new “friends” would cut off contact. But the supposed app was actually a virus that gave Hamas access to the soldiers’ contacts, locations, apps, photos and files, the military said, and allowed Hamas operatives to stream video from the cellphone’s camera and audio from the microphone.

Dozens of phones were targeted in the past few months, most of them belonging to low-ranking combat soldiers carrying out their obligatory service, the military officials said. Though the Hamas operation had the potential to cause serious damage to state security, the officials said, the military intelligence directorate’s information security branch, in cooperation with other Israeli security agencies, caught on and acted to shut the operation while the damage was minimal.

Suspicions arose when a female Israeli soldier reported that her profile photo and identity had been stolen and were being used to befriend other soldiers. Some male soldiers became suspicious when their new “friends” asked about their military activities.

After working secretly for several months to find the cyberspies, the military said it had decided to publicize the operation to raise public awareness and encourage soldiers to report suspicious behavior on social networks. The military is asking soldiers to turn off the GPS on their phones when not in use, to make themselves harder to track. It is also recommending that soldiers avoid downloading apps from unfamiliar sources.

“This time, their weapon isn’t a bomb, gun or vehicle,” the military officials said of the Hamas cyberoperatives. “It’s a simple friend request.”

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