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July 5, 2021 2:18 pm

Malaysian Groups Waged Cyber Campaign to Spam, Block Israeli Accounts During Gaza Conflict: Report

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avatar by Sharon Wrobel

A man holds a laptop computer as cyber code is projected on him in this illustration picture taken on May 13, 2017. Photo: REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Illustration

During last month’s conflict between Israel and the Hamas terror group, a number of Malaysian anti-Israel groups carried out a massive campaign on major social media and messaging platforms to aggressively spam pro-Israel content and attempt to suspend or block accounts, according to a report conducted by the Israel-based Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (ITIC).

The efforts targeted thousands of Israelis, including prominent figures such as former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli Hollywood actress Gal Gadot.

According to the July 1 report, they were spearheaded by a network of Malaysian anti-Israel organizations with an online exposure of hundreds of thousands of views and followers. The groups spread meticulous instructions to followers of who to target, how, and what content to use, using two main tactics — harassing and trolling pro-Israel accounts, and attempting to suspend and block them.

“These attacks damaged the ability of free expression of many thousands of Israelis and pro-Israelis that wanted to share their legitimate feelings and views on the situation in Israel during the operation, without any intent of violence or racism,” the ITIC found. “These attacks illustrate (once again) the lack of real responsibility of social media platforms towards the public of their users, and the urgent need for proactive and comprehensive actions from their side, in order to ensure safe and proper use.”

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One of the Malaysian groups identified in the report is Cinta Syria Malaysia (CSM), an NGO with some 300,000 followers that deals with humanitarian aid to Syrians but has been recently active in pro-Palestinian activism. On its Twitter account, CSM provided instructions how to attack Israeli pages.

In a new Telegram channel called “Team Suspend Twitter,” another Malaysian group campaigned for a coordinated effort to suspend pro-Israel accounts on Twitter by brute force attacking a target account with multiple false passwords, and then reporting the account as hacked.

The ITIC showed that pro-Israel hashtags like including #IsraelUnderFire, #IsraelUnderAttack were used to identify targets. One of the main hashtags employed by the Malaysian groups was #IsraelKoyak — using a Malay word that means “torn” or “ripped,” but which is also a slang insult. During the 11-day hostilities in Gaza, that hashtag was mentioned over 557,000 times on Twitter alone, with a potential reach of over 251 million, according to the Israeli think tank.

The report said the possibility remained that bots or pay-per-comment services were also used, although noted that it had not seen any such indications.

Last month, a Malaysian hacking group calling itself DragonForce Malaysia announced via its Telegram channel that it had hacked a university recruitment network system in Israel and stole the personal information of hundreds of thousands of Israeli students. The information, including names, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and home addresses was leaked online, and then used by followers to harass Israelis’ phones on WhatsApp and to try to block their accounts.

“The massive and aggressive attacks against pro-Israel accounts during the operation in Gaza demonstrates the power of the anti-Israeli Muslims on the web,” the ITIC report concluded. “The findings of the research indicate that there is a large and powerful network of anti-Israel groups and orgs in Malaysia, that should be further researched for its connections to the ongoing campaign to delegitimize Israel, also known as DLG.”

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