In the spy trade, when a beautiful woman lured an unsuspecting male victim for the purposes of exploiting him, it was called a honeypot. The tool of the trade still exists — and is still being used today. But in keeping with the times, the honeypot has received an upgrade.
Traditionally, the honeypot was a beautiful young woman luring a regular ol' older guy. She would step up to him at a bar, usually a hotel bar — and flatter him with an inordinate amount of attention. Her spy mission was accomplished as soon as they had pictures either in the bar or in the room. The handlers could now exploit the target and get the intelligence or information needed. And then the honeypot would move on to her next job — or Joe.
It was an ironclad rule in the spy world: When a young beautiful woman, especially a younger beautiful woman, approaches you in a hotel bar she is not interested in your mind or your body. She wants your information. Unfortunately, even with foreknowledge, many a target was seduced by a honeypot.
In today's spy world, honeypots are both male and female and hotel bars have become passé. The beautiful people are virtual photos of real people sent over the internet. And now they want not only your information but also your phone and laptop — or at least the information encrypted on those devices.
The one thing that hasn't changed with time is the success of the ploy. Flattery is still the best form of exploitation.
Today the terrorist organization Hamas is using Instagram as their honeypot. They are usurping, stealing, snarfing pictures of beautiful women and men and sending them to Israeli soldiers in highly secure units, especially intelligence and computer units. The pictures of men and women are given Jewish and Israeli sounding names so as to give Israeli soldiers the impression that beautiful kindred spirits are reaching out to them. Often, the honeypot even asks the duped soldier to fill out an application form.
Hamas is hoping that asking the soldiers to be their friends or to share photos will work. One click, one download, and the hacker is in. Hamas now has access to every picture, text, message, email, contact. They also have the ability to turn phones into recorders, microphones, and even video transmitters allowing for Hamas to see everything that's happening without the phone's owner suspecting that their cell phone is operating as a conduit.
Hamas has been luring lonely people, aka IDF soldiers on active duty, and preying on their vulnerabilities and desire for companionship, since 2017. The ploy is not dissimilar to child porn ruses that trick children. It also resembles the notion of social engineering and spear phishing. Social engineering is creating a situation in which, during the course of normal cyber activity, a person is tricked into revealing details of their identity to a hacker. Spear phishing is a targeted cyber-attack against an individual in order to attempt to get access or details from that person. Many of these moves require bait. In this case the bait is the picture, the honeypot.
This is the third attempt by Hamas to infiltrate the IDF through honeypots. In January 2017 when the honeypot program was discovered Israel launched an educational response telling soldiers not to be drawn into any program by anyone they did not know. The program was called "Operation: The Enemy is Listening."
The second attempt was in March of this year when the honeypot hackers trolled Facebook and WhatsApp for photos. That attempt failed because Israel discovered the infiltration early and was able to educate their soldiers and repel the hackers. Interestingly, the women who were approached by men were quicker to realize what was happening and cut off communication much more quickly than did the men who were approached by women.
Hamas' hackers are well skilled — they should not be taken lightly or dismissed as amateurs. One of the ways Israel was able to find out what the Hamas hackers were doing is by employing a method called "doubling." Israeli soldiers who realized they were hacked turned their phones over to the tech team. They followed along and turned the tables by hacking the hackers. The countermeasure by Israel was entitled "Operation Heartbreaker." It involved eleven IDF soldiers, eight of whom were approached and infiltrated via Facebook and another three via WhatsApp.
Building on the assumption that all's fair in love and war, Israel, too, has engaged in the use of honeypots. In Israel, however, military and defense sanctions for the operation were not sufficient. Israel needs rabbinic sanction. In 2010 Rabbi Ari Schvat issued a legal rabbinic decision that was published by the Tzomet Institute ruling that Israel's Mossad could, indeed, use real honeypots. The Tzomet Institute is engaged in understanding Jewish law as it intersects with the modern world. According to the ruling even religiously orthodox young women could be recruited as honeypots for the sake of national security.
Social media has become almost everyone's modus operandi for communication. We need to know that we are all ripe for being ripped off. The cyber world is populated by white hats and black hats. White hats are on our team, black hats are on the other team. What unites them is that they are all exploiting social media.
Micah Halpern is a political and foreign affairs commentator. He founded "The Micah Report" and hosts "Thinking Out Loud with Micah Halpern" a weekly TV program and "My Chopp" a daily radio spot. A dynamic speaker, he specializes in analyzing world events and evaluating their relevance and impact. Follow him on Twitter @MicahHalpern. To read more of this reports — Click Here Now.
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