At the time of publication on Monday, the problem of hackers broadcasting a message to viewers had not been rectified.
On Sunday night, a cyberattack that targeted set-top boxes displayed information about Israeli atrocities in Palestine instead of the usual programming, causing an unexpected disruption to television for many residents of the United Arab Emirates.
The affected service’s subscribers reported an abrupt change in programming on European live channels, accompanied by the message, “We have no choice but to hack to deliver this message to you.” Next, the screens changed to an AI news anchor with a bulletin about the state of Palestinian women and children in Israeli jails, complete with images of them in distress.
A resident of Dubai who uses the well-known HK1RBOXX streaming device, described his experience as follows: “At approximately 10.30 p.m., I was watching BBC News when the program was abruptly disrupted. Instead, horrifying images from Palestine appeared on my screen. My screen froze, and I stood there dumbfounded as a message from the hacker appeared in all caps on a green background. A news bulletin delivered by an AI anchor came right after this. It was eerie and bizarre.”
During a quiz show, a European woman who was using the streaming device reported hearing an odd buzzing sound before seeing a message about hacking on her TV. “I was watching a bespectacled AI anchor discussing the atrocities with a ticker showing the number of Palestinians killed and wounded so far before I realized what was going on.” There were kids around, and the videos were pretty graphic. Not that I wanted them to see it, but we were caught off guard. The content was the same on every channel we changed to.”
As of Monday at the time of publication, the hacking issue was still open.
Cyberattacks In UAE: Changing risks and growing countermeasures
Cyberattacks swept the Middle East shortly after COVID-19 broke out, leaving both public and private organizations extremely vulnerable and turning the pandemic into a physical as well as a digital threat. Many people were more digitally connected than ever before despite the physical isolation of the world, which greatly increased the attack surface for eager cyber threat actors (TAs). After more than two years, we have seen how these actors successfully took advantage of the new reality and escalated their social engineering attacks in the wake of the pandemic’s initial social unrest and widespread panic.
For the newly digitized attack surface in early 2020, the United Arab Emirates was in some ways the perfect target. Because of the nation’s sophisticated digital economy and extensive use of technology in the workplace, hackers were unable to resist taking advantage of the nation’s cyber vulnerabilities. The pandemic prompted a swift shift to a work-from-home model, but this only made security issues worse because neither employers nor employees had received security awareness training or knew how to maintain a safe virtual workplace.