How safe are the websites of Jewish community organizations? How easy can they fall under the control of hackers, scammers, anti-Semites and Israel-haters?
Those questions came up last month, just weeks after Target Inc. announced that the credit card numbers of 70 million customers had been stolen. On Feb. 25, Secure Community Network, an affiliate of the Jewish Federations of North America and of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, issued an alert to its agencies about “a more concerted and aggressive effort” by cyber hackers against Jewish organizations.
Nevertheless, the threat remains small, according to Patrick Daly, SCN’s deputy director.
“We see a handful [of attacks] a year,” he said. “I don’t want to say there was a spike, but there has been an increase.”
The alert, which was not released publicly and was first revealed by JTA, referred to three hacking incidents.
In one, an organization’s website was “replaced by a Palestinian flag with the superimposed image of an apparent jihadist displaying a rifle,” the alert stated. The group claiming responsibility called itself CoIDZ.
In another, “a group referring to itself as the ‘Blackbirds’ hacked the website of a school and defaced it with anti-Israel rhetoric.” Another website was redirected to pornography.
“It’s a game,” said Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, which tracks the security of local Jewish organizations. “It’s annoying and it’s offensive, but nobody dies from it. I’d rather deal with hackers than terrorism.”
The SCN alert also reported that two federations were hit by a credit card scam. One federation “received an $8,100 donation from someone named Davon White. The ‘donor’ then indicated that they made an error and their intention was to provide a gift for $810.00. The alleged donor then requested a refund to a credit card they provided.”
“It’s sad, but it’s clear that everybody in the United States has had their information stolen by now,” said Halber, referring to the thefts that affected Target and Neiman Marcus customers. Jewish organizations have the extra job of responding to anti-Semitic and anti-Israel attackers, he said.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington has not been hacked, said Carl Scalzo, president of the Federation’s IT company, On-Line Computers and Communications. The Federation’s website is hosted by Jewish Federations of North America servers, giving the local agency “an extra layer of protection,” he said.
SCN watches for two kinds of cyber-attacks, said Daly. One is “cyber intrusions,” where personal information is hacked and posted on line. In such attacks, hackers might access federation and donor information.
Another attack, probing from Middle Eastern countries, is “more nefarious,” he said.
The alert advised: “It is imperative that all IT departments understand how to mitigate the threat and are up-to-date on the necessary technologies and processes to use in order to be proactive and prevent these incidents.”
While Jewish organizations have been hit, in general Jews are not being singled out for attack, said Daly. “We’re not sounding alarms that the Jewish community is under cyberattack. The whole world is under cyberattack.”