The Israeli military said Tuesday it had uncovered a plot by Hamas militants to spy on soldiers by befriending them on social media and then luring them into downloading fake dating applications that gave Hamas access to their smartphones.
A senior intelligence officer said Hamas initially reached out to the soldiers through Facebook, often posing as young women, and then moved the relationship over to the WhatsApp texting service. Following dozens of reports from soldiers receiving unusual messages, the military launched operation "Broken Heart."
The military said it had uncovered three Hamas-operated apps on Google Play that had been downloaded about 100 times by soldiers since the beginning of the year.
The officer, speaking on condition of anonymity under military regulations, said the Hamas cyber efforts to snoop on soldiers were nothing new. But its methods of infecting phones with malicious applications were a significant upgrade since they could seize control of a phone's contents, potentially acquiring classified information or compromising images that could be used to blackmail soldiers.
The military said the first two apps were called Glancelove and Winkchat, supposed dating apps. The third, Golden Cup, was filled with information about the World Cup taking place in Russia.
The photos belonged to real women whose photos and personal details were stolen from their Facebook profiles. Some were scantily clad and kissing each other. Conversations were conducted in everyday Hebrew from Israeli mobile numbers and the military said those operating the accounts were not necessarily based in Gaza.
The official said no damage was done, thanks to newly enacted guidelines for military mobile phone use.
"Once again Hamas tried to fool our soldiers on social networks. Once again Hamas failed," the officer said, in a briefing to reporters at military headquarters.
Hamas had no immediate comment.
The military said the Hamas efforts signaled a bold new step by its expanding cyber division, as the militant group ruling Gaza seeks new ways of confronting Israel.
The military said it had fortified its defenses by upgrading its guidelines for soldiers so that they are less exposed to cyber warfare. Information officers are deployed across units to provide a quick response if soldiers are attacked, and the military targets soldiers with invitations to fake apps to test their awareness.
The officer said only about five percent of soldiers engage in such conversations and only two percent download the malicious apps, which then offer a warning: "This time it was us, next time it will be someone else."
The military would not disclose whether it had been in touch with Google or others, or what it was doing with the information it has gathered from the would-be hackers, saying the emphasis now was on further education of soldiers to beware the pitfalls of modern electronic communications.
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