UAE Central Bank hit by hackers

Israeli hackers appeared to shut down the website of the Central Bank of the United Arab Emirates on Thursday, embarrassing the bank as it played host to European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi.

The attack appeared to be the work of Israeli hackers operating under the name IDF Team. The group had announced its intention to shut down the central bank website, as well as the website of Arab Bank, one of the largest Palestinian lenders, in a message late on Wednesday.

Both sites were inaccessible on Thursday. UAE Central Bank officials brushed aside the significance of their site being compromised, saying talks with the European delegation, which included Mr Draghi and a number of ECB governors, were their top priority.

“We have been busy here,” said Sultan bin Nasser al-Suwaidi, governor of the UAE Central Bank, when asked about the hack. “There are IT technicians who will take care of it.”

As in previous messages, the Israeli hackers’ announcement was coupled with a warning of further cyber attacks. The posting, on the Pastebin website, hit out at the recent spate of attacks on Israeli websites by Arab hackers, describing them as “terrorists” and threatening further assaults on “sites related to the country’s economy and even security”.

It was not clear which country or countries the Israeli hackers had in mind, though one site mentioned as a possible target was that of the UAE government at www.government.ae. On Tuesday, Israeli hackers claimed to have attacked the websites of the Saudi and Abu Dhabi stock exchanges, although officials at the bourses denied their sites had been affected.

The sites are likely to have been hit by denial-of-service attacks, which use a network of computers to flood the system running a website with requests, causing it to break down. Often the computers used for such attacks have been infected by viruses that allow hackers to control the machines remotely, without the knowledge of their owner.

Despite being home to highly tech-literate population and a thriving IT industry that specialises in security applications, it is rare for denial-of-service attacks to originate in Israel, said Costin Raiu, the director of global research and analysis at Kaspersky Lab, a computer security company.

Kaspersky, which closely tracks the activity of the virus-infected computer networks used by hackers to compromise websites, rarely sees such networks operated from Saudi Arabia or Israel – although in the past 10 days, that has changed, Mr Raiu said. A virus that infected a number of computers in Iran, which Kaspersky has obtained a copy of, “was very unusual, in that it was using command and control servers in Israel, and the software was found mostly on Iranian computers”. He could not confirm if the virus was involved in the recent round of attacks.

But he said the virus was written in Visual Basic, a simple programming language that is not typically used to create sophisticated viruses. “It indicates they were interested in getting something done quickly,” Mr Raiu said. “It’s definitely not professionals, it looks basic – like retaliation, like hacktivism.

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