Mossad reportedly used a Trojan to hack into a Syrian official's laptop while he stayed in a London hotel.
The information extracted was used to plan a bombing raid at a suspected nuclear reactor facility in Syria, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports.
The air raid on the partly-constructed Syrian nuclear facility in September 2007 took place a year after the unnamed Syrian official left his unattended laptop in his room in a hotel in Kensington, London. The government worker was already under surveillance by Mossad agents, who used his absence to plant the Trojan in order to extract data from the compromised PC.
Der Spiegel's description of the hack suggests that the Trojan was used to bypass security defences and extract data already on the PC rather than to tap ongoing email conversations, for example.
Israeli agents took the opportunity to install a so-called "Trojan horse" program, which can be used to secretly steal data, onto the Syrian's laptop.
The hard drive contained construction plans, letters and hundreds of photos. The photos, which were particularly revealing, showed the Al Kibar complex at various stages in its development.
The report goes on to say that pictures of Syrian officials meeting North Korean nuclear experts help direct subsequent investigations.
One of the photos showed an Asian in blue tracksuit trousers, standing next to an Arab. The Mossad quickly identified the two men as Chon Chibu and Ibrahim Othman. Chon is one of the leading members of the North Korean nuclear program, and experts believe that he is the chief engineer behind the Yongbyon plutonium reactor. Othman is the director of the Syrian Atomic Energy Commission.
Der Spiegel adds that an Israeli Military Intelligence unit tapped conversations between officials at the Syrian reactor and North Korean experts prior to the strike.
Noted security guru Bruce Schneier described the scenario of the hack as similar to a previously demonstrated "evil maid" attack against encrypted systems. "Remember the evil maid attack: if an attacker gets hold of your computer temporarily, he can bypass your encryption software," Schneier warns. ®