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The websites of the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and El Al Israel Airlines crashed yesterday, one day after hackers calling themselves Nightmare Group threatened to down the sites as part of an escalating cyber war on Israel.

True to their word, at 10 A.M. yesterday both of the "critical website [sic] of Israel" began having major problems. Nightmare Group crowned their effort a success.

The hack comes in the wake of a series of cyber attacks over the past two weeks, and only a day after Hamas called on hackers to join the "new front for electronic resistance and war against the Israeli occupation."

The method used by yesterday's hackers was a simple but effective one. Known as a distributed denial-of-service attack, it usually involves bombarding the target machine with external communications requests, rendering it incapable of responding to legitimate traffic.

A TASE spokeswoman confirmed that the exchange's website was attacked but emphasized that the trading system was in no way affected. She said the TASE website did not actually collapse due to the DDoS assault, which did impede user access, and that the agency's IT professionals blocked access at one point in order to prevent damage to the system.

El Al said the airline was reviewing the situation, that it was "aware that for the past two weeks Israel has been under cyber attack" and was "taking safety measures in the operations of the company's website," and that disruptions were to be expected as a result.

0xOmar and his Saudi hacking cadre Group-XP, which began the latest anti-Israel hacking campaign earlier this month when it exposed the credit card numbers of thousands of Israelis, was not behind yesterday's attack. But in one of the online postings announcing yesterday's attacks, a representative of Nightmare Group wrote that it had "joined to 0xOmar [sic] movement and Islamic hackers against Israel."

"They have demanded an apology for Israel's defensive measures," Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said on his Facebook page, alluding to the conflict with Palestinians. "I am using this platform to send a clear message that ... they will not silence us on the Internet, or in any forum."

The Bank of Israel yesterday recommended that local banks block access to computer users whose devices could be identified as being in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Algeria, as a precaution.

Discount Bank said it had been spared attack but was temporarily shutting down foreign access to its website as a precaution. Bank Leumi said it was monitoring the situation and would only block access if, and as, necessary.

Bank Beinleumi (First International Bank of Israel ) and two subsidiary banks, Massad and Otzar Hahayal, said their marketing sites had been hacked but that sites providing online services to clients were unaffected.

Israeli and other Jewish hackers continued their counterattacks against Arab websites and Internet users. On Friday a hacker calling himself Hannibal announced that he was in possession of 30 million email addresses of citizens of Arab countries, and promised to release them over a period of several years. (See page 12 for more )

Public Diplomacy Minister Yuli Edelstein told a Women's International Zionist Organization conference in Tel Aviv yesterday that the cyber attacks were part of a wider move to smear the country's reputation and "threaten Israel's economic stability and security."

"It's another episode in the war our enemies are conducting as a campaign of delegitimization to hit our pockets and lifestyle," he said, in reported comments confirmed by his spokesman.

"Israel must use all measures at its disposal to prevent these virtual dangers from turning into real threats and to prevent with all its force attacks against it and its institutions. Today it's credit card theft and toppling websites, and tomorrow it could be theft of security information and harm to infrastructure," Edelstein said.

Meanwhile, computer security experts participating in a panel convened by TheMarker in the wake of the apparent escalation in the cyber war against Israel said that the government's anti-cyberterrorism task force was still very much a virtual agency, with a head - former Defense Ministry employee Eviatar Matanya - but no real budgetary or personnel resources.

Eran Azran, Sivan Aizescu, Ram Ozeri, Revital Blumenfeld and Guy Grimland contributed to this report.