Hamas Is Using Dating Apps to Hack Israeli Soldiers

Israeli soldiers use a smartphone during a training session in Ben Shemen forest, near the city of Modi'in, Israel, on May 23, 2016. REUTERS/ Amir Cohen

Palestinian militant group Hamas is using fake dating and World Cup update apps to hack into the smartphones of Israeli soldiers and turn them into spying devices, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has said.

If soldiers downloaded the fake apps, it would give Hamas operatives the ability to see a user's location and contact list. It would also allow the app's creator to use the phone as a listening device and video camera, The Times of Israel reported.

The IDF said hundreds of its soldiers were contacted by imitation Facebook accounts, usually using stolen pictures to pose as young women, asking to talk on WhatsApp. They were then asked to download one of two fake dating apps named WinkChat and GlanceLove. Intelligence officers said those running the fake accounts were not necessarily based in Gaza, the coastal enclave controlled by Hamas.

"Whatever you can do with your phone, the malicious content can do," an official in the IDF intelligence directorate told reporters at a briefing Tuesday. He also said a third app—Golden Cup—was found posing as a World Cup live scores and fixtures resource.

Advertised on Facebook in Hebrew, the program could stream matches and highlights from past fixtures and included details about competing teams. One intelligence official said the app was "actually a very good one."

All three apps targeted Android devices and were listed on the Google Play store, although have now been removed. Officials said they were reported by soldiers and did not cause any "security damage at all." Fewer than 100 troops fell for the ruse, installing at least one of the apps on their phones. Both men and women were targeted. "What Hamas is bringing to the table is a very good knowledge of our young people and their state of mind," one officer told reporters.

The IDF had been investigating the hack for several months, calling its operation "Broken Heart" as it claimed the fake romances failed to achieve Hamas' goal.

This is not the first time Hamas has tried to exploit lax cyber security among individual Israeli soldiers. In 2017, the group spread fake chatting apps to gain control of troops' phone cameras and microphones. Using pictures of young women and Hebrew slang, fraudsters convinced dozens of soldiers to download the malicious program.

The Israeli military has started testing its own soldiers to see how cautious they are when dealing with suspicious online offers. Soldiers will receive fake messages from the IDF asking them to click on a link. If they do, a warning message appears warning them to be more careful. Soldiers who fall foul of the trick then have to meet with their commanders to go over good online security practice.

The most notorious catfishing incident of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains the murder of a 16-year-old Israeli boy in 2001. After weeks of chatting online, Ofir Rahum was lured to a meeting by Mona Jaud Awana, a 24-year-old Palestinian woman posing as a tourist. Awana then drove the pair to a prearranged spot where gunmen shot Rahum dead.