Israeli schoolchildren visit the Holocaust Museum in Kibbutz Yad Mordechai… (Jim Hollander / EPA )
JERUSALEM -- A widespread hacker attack targeting Israeli websites caused some disruption to government, academic and private sites Sunday.
The extent of the damage was unclear at midday, but officials said strategic infrastructure appeared to have largely repelled the attacks, expected to increase later in the day as Israel begins to mark Holocaust Memorial Day.
Hundreds of websites have been attacked, and more than a dozen government sites have been temporarily disabled since the attack that threatened to "erase Israel from cyber-space" began.
The attack -- dubbed and tagged #OpIsrael by hackers affiliated with the shadowy group Anonymous -- was announced in advance and described by its organizers as an act of solidarity with Palestinians in retaliation for Israel's treatment of them, as well as for Israeli settlement activity and what is perceived as disrespect for international law.
Several government websites, including those of the ministries of Education, Defense and Environmental Protection, were disabled overnight, defaced with anti-Israeli messages and loud music. They and other government sites were restored within a few hours, officials said.
Financial and other institutions reportedly blocked access to their servers from abroad the night before, minimizing the risk of being breached by activists outside Israel.
Officials prepared for the worst, and hackers failed to take out any truly important or protected sites, according to Yitzhak Ben-Yisrael, head of the country's National Cyber Bureau. "Anonymous doesn't have the skills to damage the country's vital infrastructure," Ben-Yisrael told Israeli media Sunday.
Despite officials' claims of only minor disruptions, a Facebook post from the organizers said the attack was a "complete success" and urged supporters not to listen to propaganda.
Preparations for #OpIsrael reportedly were launched after the November military assault on the Gaza Strip that Israel called Operation Pillar of Defense."
Activists warned that "elite cyber-squadrons" would "disrupt and erase Israel from cyber-space" on April 7. In the run-up to the threatened attack, hackers posted lists of thousands of sites to be targeted -- mostly government and academic domains but small private or commercial sites as well.
Israeli hackers were reportedly fighting back by defacing a site affiliated with Anonymous and replacing pro-Palestinian content with messages of support for Israel and its military.
In Israel, break-ins of websites, hacking of databases and defacement have been on the rise in recent days. In addition, Israelis have reported increasing email and Facebook attempts to introduce viruses, malware and spyware.
In one incident, an email message originating from a fake Israeli military sender included an attachment intended to turn computers into carriers of a spamming attack against the Bank of Israel.
The Israel Internet Assn. has issued guidelines for computer and information defense and launched a hotline for concerned citizens.
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