By Ori Lewis
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel Thursday called on computer hackers not to take the law into their own hands to avenge attacks on Israeli credit card companies, and said the authorities were capable of countering all cyber threats.
"We call on Israeli citizens to abide by (the law). Just as the Israeli government has found answers for terrorism, we will find answers to this challenge ... we call on Israeli citizens not to ... act as vigilantes," Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said in a statement.
Last week a computer hacker who said he was based in Saudi Arabia, published thousands of personal and credit card details of people apparently gleaned from commercial websites. It was one of the worst cases of hacking Israel has said it has faced.
In response, at least one Israeli hacker declared he had carried out a reprisal cyber-attack on Saudi credit card holders, although the scope of his action could not be verified.
Although the hacked details had apparently come from what analysts said were poorly secured internet shopping websites, the fact that the attack was aimed at Israel has led to fears that it was politically motivated.
Ayalon described the hacking as "a breach of sovereignty comparable to a terrorist operation, and must be treated as such."
He said Israel would act and would prevail against hackers in a new form of warfare.
"We will take firm action against those who compromise our security including through cyber-terrorism, and if necessary we will use international law enforcement ... Cyber-terrorism is the new battleground and just as we defeated our opponents on every other field ... we will defeat this as well," Ayalon said.
The hacker, identifying himself as Saudi-based OxOmar, said last week he had leaked private information about more than 400,000 Israelis. Credit card companies said around 25,000 numbers, some of them expired, had been posted.
After Israeli media ran what they described as interviews conducted with OxOmar by email, the Haaretz newspaper said a blogger had tracked the hacker down and determined he was a 19-year-old citizen of the United Arab Emirates studying and working in Mexico.
Hamas, an Islamist group that sees itself as locked in holy war with Israel but has hinted it could curb armed attacks as part of reconciliation talks with more moderate Palestinian rivals, described OxOmar's actions as "a new form of resistance.
"We urge Arab youth to ignore these cowardly Israeli threats and to use all means available in the virtual space to confront Israeli crimes," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said in Gaza on Sunday.
(Additional reporting by Dan Williams and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Editing by Louise Ireland)