Palestinian terror group Hamas has been accused by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) of using photographs of attractive women posted on Instagram as a ploy to download spyware on the mobile telephones of Israeli soldiers.
The allegations follow claims made in 2016 and 2017 that Hamas had made similar attempts to download spyware on IDF personnel’s mobile telephones using Facebook. In both the Facebook and Instagram cases, the spyware downloaded on soldier’s phones allows Hamas operators to remotely and surreptitiously control the cameras and audio applications.
The use of attractive women – or, in this case, photographs of them – to lure the unwary and gullible is as old as espionage itself, and Hamas seem to have proven adept at exploiting the weaknesses of young Israeli male soldiers.
IDF officials, however, are claiming that the Hamas information operation was largely unsuccessful. “We can say definitively that Hamas failed in its mission and did not succeed in getting classified information leaked,” said one IDF Military Intelligence officer familiar with the issue in comments made to The Times of Israel.
The IDF created a counter-information operation dubbed Operation Broken Heart that reinforced operational and information security training and messaging among IDF troops along with more “active measures” to thwart Hamas’ attempts to lure Israeli soldiers with the fake Instagram accounts.
“Hamas tried, unsuccessfully, by preserving the connections [with soldiers] it had made in the past or starting new ones with fake identities we hadn’t uncovered yet. Thanks to the heightened awareness that we developed, these efforts were also exposed by soldiers, and that way we thwarted additional false identities,” added the IDF Military Intelligence officer.
According to IDF officials, one of the challenges in thwarting the Hamas Instagram information operation was the very nature of how the social media site, along with other sites, works. The aim of most Instagram account holders is to continuously increase the number of followers and the number of likes for each post. Part of the IDF’s messaging and training for Israeli troops included an emphasis on not accepting followers that are not personally known to the soldiers who are on these social media sites, and to double-check private messages from unknown individuals sent to soldiers.
“This is a network that has a sharing culture that is getting more intense, all around pictures and sharing and ‘look at me.’ The popularity and the need for followers increases the risk, and therefore we need to follow the rules — not allowing people we don’t know to follow us, being wary of links sent to your private mailbox,” said the unnamed IDF Military Intelligence officer.
“I want to make it clear to soldiers that even if Hamas adds more applications and tries different platforms, the moment that they recognize there is a problem, they won’t be affected by it. Soldiers need to ask themselves a number of questions: Why did they contact me? Why is someone who appears to have romantic or friendly feelings toward me asking me questions about the military or if I want to download an app? And most of all, why should I give permission to a stranger who asked me to install something?” added the IDF officer.
Despite claims by the IDF that the Hamas information operations using Facebook and Instagram were unsuccessful, there is a grudging acknowledgement that the Hamas techniques and methods are increasingly sophisticated and accomplished. The fake accounts used by Hamas use photographs of actual Israeli women, comments and messages are written in fluent Hebrew, and the use of contemporary and fashionable slang used by young Israelis make the accounts appear legitimate to the untrained and unaware eye.
“What Hamas is bringing to the table is a very good knowledge of our young people and their state of mind,” said another IDF officer familiar with the information operations of Hamas.