A possible cyberattack knocked out phone lines to police and fire departments in Israel for over an hour on Monday night.
The Bezeq Electric company issued a statement that said a “malfunction occurred in all Bezeq lines” during standard “night work.” The nature of the malfunction was not elaborated upon.
The phone outage affected Magen David Adom (MDA), Israel’s national emergency response service, plus police and fire departments, and the Hatzalah emergency medical service. Service was restored after a little over an hour.
A police spokesperson said on Tuesday morning that “an initial review revealed a malfunction occurred during infrastructure work, affecting Bezeq telecommunication lines (not just emergency lines).”
The last note in that statement seemed to offer reassurances that the phone outage was not an attack that specifically targeted emergency services. Initial reports of the communications breakdown in local media speculated it was the work of hackers trying to knock out Israel’s emergency services.
“The issue is being addressed by the relevant authorities,” the police statement concluded, suggesting that a full investigation of the incident is underway.
Israel has been dealing with elevated cyber threats since the Hamas atrocities of October 7. Many of the attacks have been launched by hacker groups linked to the government of Iran. On Saturday, an Iran-linked group briefly hacked a water station in Pennsylvania, ostensibly because the station used some Israeli-made equipment.
Hackers linked to Hamas have been pecking away at Israel’s online infrastructure for almost a decade. Cybersecurity experts say the sophistication of these attacks increased considerably in 2023, including the deployment of a sophisticated malware called “SysJoker” by a group called WildCard.
An earlier and much cruder version of SysJoker was deployed against Israeli schools by Hamas hackers in 2021. The 2023 version was extensively rewritten, becoming an order of magnitude more effective, which suggests either Hamas hackers have greatly improved their skills, or they are receiving outside support from more advanced threat actors.
Cybersecurity firm Check Point Software Technologies reported “an increase of approximately 20% in cyberattacks in Israel during the war, including more than 50% when it comes to attacks on the government sector.”
“Around three weeks ago, several known Iranian APT [Advanced Persistent Threat] Groups started to attack organizations in Israel, mostly public/government entities, academia, and supply chain companies working with the government. These attacks are more significant, strong malware, ransomware, and wipers,” said Check Point chief of staff Gil Messing on November 23.