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Apurva Venkat
Special Correspondent

Hackers attack Israel’s Technion university, demand over $1.7 million in ransom

Feb 13, 20233 mins

A new group called DarkBit has claimed responsibility for the ransomware attack and demanded that the ransom of 80 bitcoins be paid within the next 48 hours.

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Israel’s Technion university on Sunday suffered a ransomware attack, which has forced the university to proactively block all communication networks. A new group calling itself DarkBit has claimed responsibility for the attack.  

“The Technion is under cyberattack. The scope and nature of the attack are under investigation,” Technion, one of Israel’s top universities, wrote in a Tweet.  

Established in 1912, Haifa-based Technion — otherwise known as the Israel Institute of Technology — has become a global pioneer in fields such as biotechnology, stem cell research, space, computer science, nanotechnology, and energy. Four Technion professors have won Nobel Prizes. The university has also contributed for the growth of Israel’s high-tech industry and innovation, including the country’s technical cluster in Silicon Wadi.

The university said it is postponing scheduled exams due to the ransomware attack, but classes will continue as usual. Its website remained inaccessible at the time of writing.

80 bitcoins demanded as ransom

DarkBit has demanded 80 bitcoins ($1,729,320) as ransom from the university. The group has also said that the amount will go up by 30% if the ransom is not received within 48 hours.

“You will receive a decrypting key after the payment. Notice that you just have 48 hours. After the deadline, a 30% penalty will be added to the price. We put data for sale after 5 days,” DarkBit wrote in a message on the university website, which was shared by Tel Aviv-based cybersecurity professional Alon Gal, co-founder and CTO of Hudson Rock. 

“We’re sorry to inform you that we’ve had to hack Technion network completely and transfer all data to our secure servers. So, keep calm, take a breath and think about an apartheid regime that causes troubles here and there,” DarkBit group wrote in the mail. 

“They should pay for their lies and crimes, their names and shames. They should pay for occupation, war crimes against humanity, killing the people (not only Palestinians’ bodies, but also Israelis’ souls) and destroying the future and all dreams we had. They should pay for firing high-skilled experts,” the hacker group further mentioned. 

The group also shared a messenger ID for the Tox secure messenging app, through which individuals can contact them to recover their personal files. DarkBit has claimed that the files are encrypted using AES-256 military-grade algorithm.  

“Any try for recovering data without the key (using third-party applications/companies) causes permanent damage,” DarkBit wrote. 

Gal has identified some of DarkBit’s social media on Telegram, Twitter, Reddit, YouTube and Facebook. “Seems to be an organized group, likely state-sponsored. I assume they will begin uploading stuff there soon,” Gal wrote on LinkedIn.  

The group’s Telegram channel was created on February 12 and describes itself as “against any kind of racism, fascism and apartheid. #HackForGood.” Its Telegram channel has 379 followers.

Similarly, its Twitter channel was also created in February. A tweet by the group read, “A kindly advice to the hight-tech (sic) companies: From now on, be more careful when you decide to fire your employees, especially the geek ones.”

Israeli technology companies have laid off about 8,000 employees in 2022, and at least 500 tech workers since the start of 2023, according to Globes.  

INCD involved in the investigation 

The Israel National Cyber Directorate (INCD) is “in touch with Technion university to get a full picture of the situation, to assist with the incident and to study its consequences,” The Jerusalem Post reported. 

In 2022, the INCD had thwarted about 1,000 major cyberattacks that could have caused widespread and substantial damage to the Israeli economy, Gaby Portnoy, director general of the Israel National Cyber Directorate, said last month.

Apurva Venkat
Special Correspondent

Apurva Venkat is principal correspondent for the India editions of CIO, CSO, and Computerworld. She has previously worked at ISMG, IDG India, Bangalore Mirror, and Business Standard, where she reported on developments in technology, businesses, startups, fintech, e-commerce, cybersecurity, civic news, and education.

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