Arieh Kovler

Fake SMSes and Psychological Warfare

About a hour ago, people – especially journalists and media figures – started getting English text messages to their phones from “Haaretz”. The first one claimed that a rocket hit a chemical plant in Haifa and urging an evacuation. The second one said 25 people were killed in a rocket strike.

Fake SMS received by @Kol_Voice, posted on Twitter

It didn’t take very long for people to figure out the messages were fake. Haaretz rushed to clarify that they didn’t send the messages and that they were fake.

How was it done? I haven’t had a chance to confirm, but here’s the most likely way: the SMSes were spoofed. The bit of the message that usually holds the phone number of the person who sent it was replaced by text: in this case, the word “Haaretz”. A variety of websites offer this service. If you want to spend a few shekels, you can send your friend an SMS from “Hamas” too (this might be illegal and it isn’t very nice so don’t).

Who sent the messages? It won’t be easy for the Israeli authorities to trace if the sender used an offshore SMS centre to do the faking. But in this area, Hamas has form. Hamas sent threatening text messages in 2009 during Operation Cast Lead. This March, a Hamas SMS campaign threatened to kidnap Israelis. So Hamas is the most likely suspect: they’ve done it before and they have lists of Israeli phone numbers.

That said, this particular fake was quite similar to another one. A week ago, the Twitter account for the IDF Spokesperson unit was compromised. A tweet briefly claimed that the Dimona nuclear power plant had been hit by rockets causing a leak, before being quickly taken down. That hack was claimed by the Syrian Electronic Army, a pro-Assad hacking group which might actually be a front for Iranian intelligence. It also shares some similarities to today’s fake SMSes, particularly the language (English, not the usual poor Hebrew) and the content.

It doesn’t really matter who did it, though. Ultimately it was a failure, like all recent Psychological Warfare efforts have been on the Israeli public.

We are eager to hear and spread the latest news, but it’s important to keep a little scepticism. How many people heard and spread false rumours over the last few weeks, whether out of desperate hope for our kidnapped boys or because we were in denial that Jews could commit a horrendous murder? How many because we clicked “retweet” or “share” before engaging our own critical faculties?

We don’t need Hamas or the Syrian Electronic Army’s pathetic attempts to spread misinformation. We’re quite capable of spreading it all by ourselves.

About the Author
Arieh Kovler is a writer, political analyst and communications consultant. Before his aliya he was the Head of Policy and Research for Britain's Jewish Leadership Council and director of the Fair Play Campaign. He is a media commentator and founder of the Hat Tip.
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