Israeli hacker retaliates to credit card hacking

Man at hacker conference looks at lines of computer code on a laptop Hackers warn of potential cyber wars in the region

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An Israeli hacker has published details of hundreds of Saudi credit cards online and is threatening to post more in revenge for acts by Arab hackers.

Last week a hacker, claiming to be from Saudi Arabia, published information about tens of thousands of Israeli credit cards online.

It was one of the worst incidents of data theft in Israel.

Experts say the attacks draw attention to the potential for virtual or cyber wars in the Middle East.

According to the AFP news agency, at least two Saudi credit card holders have confirmed that their personal details were compromised by the Israeli hacker, who identifies himself as OxOmer or "Omer Cohen".

They told AFP their banks had confirmed irregularities with their credit cards.

In an online posting on Tuesday entitled "Free Saudi's credit cards!", the Israeli hacker listed names, email addresses, phone numbers and numbers of over 200 cards, most of which were within their expiry dates.

Speaking to the Jerusalem Post, OxOmer is reported to have said, "This is just the beginning".

He told the newspaper he had information on a further 300,000 working Saudi credit card numbers. "If they publish one more little detail on Israel, we will attack in full force and publish all of the credit card details," he said.

Newspaper reports suggest OxOmer is an Israeli soldier serving in Military Intelligence.

Cards cancelled

One week ago, a hacker identifying himself with a similar nickname, OxOmar, claimed he had obtained private information from 400,000 Israeli cards online. He described this as "a gift to the world for new year".

Within days more Israeli card details were put online.

Some reports suggested the hacker was a young man from the United Arab Emirates studying in Mexico, but he identified himself as a Saudi national.

Israeli officials have confirmed that over 20,000 active credit card accounts have been affected. Banks say the cards were cancelled and new ones are being issued.

At the weekend, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon described the cyber attacks as terrorism and warned that Israel would "retaliate forcefully''. He later found his own website had been attacked.

On Tuesday, Israeli army's chief of staff, Lt Gen Benny Gantz, told a parliamentary committee that Israel was poised to combat what he called cyber terrorism.

"From our standpoint we are talking about a meaningful and even critical arena,'' he was quoted as saying.

"Cyber wars"

The latest attacks have underscored the hostile relationship between Israel and Saudi Arabia. The Saudis do not recognise the state of Israel.

They have also shown the potential for politically motivated cyber attacks to escalate in the region with Arab and Israeli hackers warning of possible future action.

After the Israeli credit card data was published, a spokesman for the Palestinian militant group, Hamas, Sami Abu Zuhri, released a press statement in which he praised "the Arab hacker".

He described the leak as "an act of creativity carried out by Arab youth, inventing new forms of Arab and Islamic resistance to the occupation [of Palestinian territories by Israel]".

Internet security experts in Israel say that the country, well-known for its high-tech expertise, is better prepared than most to deal with cyber crimes. However they suggest the latest attacks show the need for the private sector to improve security.

"It's absolutely imperative that we do something about this now, not in 10 years' time," says Gadi Evron, formerly in charge of internet security for the Israeli government and now a research fellow at Tel Aviv University. "We mustn't use scare tactics but the more connected and computer literate a country becomes, the more vulnerable it is."

The country's Shin Bet internal security agency has a special unit that advises important industries on internet security.

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