How does Hezbollah deal with Israel's high-tech surveillance? | Technology

Lebanon's Hezbollah is using some old technical tactics to try to evade Israel's advanced surveillance technology after its top commander was killed in an Israeli airstrike, Reuters reported.

Lebanon and Israel have exchanged fire since Operation Al-Aqsa Flood began in October. While fighting along Lebanon's southern border has remained relatively contained, escalating attacks in recent weeks have heightened fears that it could turn into an all-out war.

Electronic surveillance in Israel

According to Reuters, Hezbollah confirmed that more than 20 of its members were killed in a targeted attack far from the front line, including three senior commanders, members of the Radwan special forces and intelligence personnel.

Electronic surveillance technology plays a vital role in these attacks. The Israeli military says it has security cameras and remote sensing systems in areas where Hezbollah operates, and it regularly sends reconnaissance drones across the border to monitor its adversaries.

The report said Israel's electronic eavesdropping – which includes hacking into cell phones and computers – is widely considered to be one of the most sophisticated operations in the world.

The report cited six sources familiar with Hezbollah's operations who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive security matters as saying Hezbollah had learned from the losses and adjusted its response strategy.

Cell phones, which can be used to track a user's location, have been banned from the battlefield, replaced by old-fashioned methods of communication, including pagers and couriers who personally deliver verbal messages, the report said, citing two of the sources.

Hezbollah also uses a private fixed communications network dating back to the early 2000s, three sources said. Code names for weapons and meeting locations are used if conversations are overheard, and they are updated almost daily and sent to troops by courier, Reuters reported.

“We are facing a battle where information and technology are crucial,” the report quoted Qassim Kassir, a Lebanese analyst with close ties to Hezbollah, as saying. “But when you encounter some technological advances, you need to go back to the old ways — telephone, personal communications … anything that allows you to circumvent technology.”

Hezbollah's media office said it had no comment on the source's account in the Reuters report.

Hezbollah leader Haji Abu Nima Mohammad Nima Nasser was assassinated Source:
Hezbollah leader Haji Abu Niama Mohammed Niama Nasser assassinated (social media)

Low-tech countermeasures

The report cited experts as saying that some low-tech countermeasures could be very effective in countering high-tech espionage.

One way late al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden evaded capture for nearly a decade was by cutting off internet and phone service and using couriers instead.

“Just using a VPN, or better yet, not using a phone at all, could make it harder to find your target,” said Emily Harding, a former CIA analyst who now works at the Washington Institute.

“But these countermeasures have made it much less effective for Hezbollah’s leadership to communicate quickly with its forces.”

Hezbollah and Lebanese security officials believe Israel was also eavesdropping on local informants as it targeted them.

The report said three sources said Lebanon's economic crisis and competition between political factions had created opportunities for Israeli recruits, but not all informants knew who they were talking to.

No cell phones or cameras allowed

In the report, two sources familiar with the party’s methods and a Lebanese intelligence official said Hezbollah began to suspect that Israel was targeting its militants by tracking their mobile phones and monitoring video footage from security cameras mounted on buildings in border communities.

On December 28, Hezbollah released a statement on its Telegram channel urging residents in the south to disconnect all security cameras they own from the internet.

By early February, another directive was issued to Hezbollah fighters: no cell phones were to be used anywhere near a battlefield.

“Today, if someone found his phone on the front lines, he would be expelled from Hezbollah,” said a senior Lebanese source familiar with the party's operations.

Three other sources in the report confirmed the story. One of them said the militants began leaving their phones behind when on missions. Another Lebanese intelligence official said Hezbollah sometimes conducts surprise inspections of troops in the field to find out if its members are carrying phones.

Even in Beirut, senior Hezbollah politicians avoided bringing mobile phones to meetings, two other sources said.

Nasrallah warned his supporters in a televised speech on February 13 that their mobile phones were more dangerous than Israeli spies and said they should smash them, bury them or lock them in iron boxes.

The report noted that Hezbollah took steps to secure its phone network after the suspected Israeli hacking, according to a former Lebanese security official and two other sources familiar with Hezbollah's operations.

The vast network, allegedly funded by Iran, was established about two decades ago, with fiber-optic cables stretching from Hezbollah strongholds in the southern suburbs of Beirut to towns in southern Lebanon and as far east as the Bekaa Valley, according to Reuters, according to government officials at the time.

The sources declined to specify when or how the network was hacked, but they said Hezbollah communications experts were dividing it into smaller networks to limit the damage if it were hacked again.

“We frequently change and switch our ground networks so that we can bypass hackers and infiltrations,” the senior source told Reuters.

Hezbollah broadcasts high-resolution images of key facilities in Israel
Hezbollah released a nine-minute video clip it said was collected by its reconnaissance aircraft over the city of Haifa (Al Jazeera)

Drone monitoring

The report said Hezbollah has the ability to gather intelligence on enemy targets and use its small, homemade drones to attack Israeli observation facilities.

On June 18, Hezbollah released a nine-minute clip purporting to be video footage collected by its reconnaissance aircraft over the occupied city of Haifa, including military and port facilities.

The Israeli Air Force said its air defenses detected the drone but decided not to intercept it because it did not have attack capabilities and doing so could have put residents in danger.

Another video released by Hezbollah includes aerial photos it claims were collected a day before the May 15 drone attack of a large Israeli surveillance balloon called SkyDew.

Hezbollah said it had shot down or seized control of six Israeli surveillance drones, including the Hermes 450, Hermes 900 and SkyLark. According to two sources, members were disassembling the drones to study their components.

Israel has confirmed that five air force drones were shot down by surface-to-air missiles while flying over Lebanon.

Nicholas Blandford, a Beirut-based security consultant who has written about Hezbollah's history, concluded the report by saying Hezbollah's “awareness and vigilance” about security breaches had reached an all-time high.

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