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Tuesday, 23 October, 2001, 11:07 GMT 12:07 UK
Hacktivists take sides in war
GForce web site
GForce is one of the most prolific hacker groups
Kevin Anderson

Online graffiti artists are taking the war on terrorism to cyberspace.


You call it terrorism? We call it Jihad. We also stand by al-Qaeda. Osama Bin Laden is a holy fighter, and whatever he says makes sense

GForce hacker message
It is not the kind of cyber-warfare that some have envisioned with state-sponsored super hackers targeting key networks and wreaking offline havoc as water, power and transportation systems go down.

Instead, it is a virtual war of words between home-grown hackers - so-called hacktivists - who mix hacking with political activism.

And as with many other conflicts and causes in recent years, hacktivists are bringing their messages to a website near you.

Cyber jihad

One of the most prolific participants in recent bouts of hacktivism has been a group of Pakistani hackers calling themselves GForce Pakistan.

Their main focus is the conflict in Kashmir, and they have left anti-Indian screeds across hundreds of Indian websites.

But they also have supported other causes like the Palestinian intifada, and now, according to some of its most recent defacements, Afghanistan and Osama Bin Laden.

YIHAT web message
YIHAT is waging an entirely different kind of war

Last week, they defaced a server belonging to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency.

"You call it terrorism? We call it Jihad," the group wrote in the lengthy message left in place of the site's homepage.

The group said that although it condemned the 11 September attacks on the US, "we also stand by al-Qaeda. Osama Bin Laden is a holy fighter, and whatever he says makes sense".

Ultimatum

The group issued an ultimatum saying it would attack US and British military websites unless a number of demands were met. These included:

  • the departure of US troops from Saudi Arabia
  • an end to the bombing campaign in Afghanistan
  • evidence linking Osama Bin Laden to the attacks in the US.

The group said it had "very high confidential US data that will be given to the right authorities of Al-Qaeda".

The group then hacked three military sites associated with the US Defence Test and Evaluation Professional Institute.

In a message left on the defaced sites, the group threatened to hack more than 1,500 major US, British and Indian sites.

Hackers fight back

In the past, these types of attack have led to hacking tit-for-tat battles between pro-US and anti-US hackers.

Earlier this year Chinese and American hackers declared a trans-Pacific cyber war following a collision between a US spy plane and a Chinese fighter.


Future attacks could bring about large economic losses as well as potentially severe damage to the national infrastructure

FBI

However, in a new twist, a group of hackers calling itself YIHAT, Young Intelligent Hackers Against Terror, are waging a completely new kind of cyber counterattack.

The group was founded by Kim "Kimble" Schmitz, a German hacker turned computer entrepreneur.

In September, YIHAT said it had hacked into computers belonging to the Al Shamal Islamic Bank in Sudan to get information on accounts held by Osama Bin Laden and his al-Qaeda organisation.

YIHAT now says it has obtained the real name of the leader of the GForce Pakistan hacking group.

YIHAT said he works for an online business in Karachi.

FBI warning

The FBI warned last week that political events were increasingly leading to cyber protests.

The most common form of protest has been defacing web pages.

FAS website
The FAS site fell victim to the hackers

The FBI said protests had had little impact on US network infrastructure.

But they warned that as the power of computing and sophistication of hacking tools increases, "cyber protesting and hacktivism will become more significant to US national interests".

The FBI said "future attacks could bring about large economic losses as well as potentially severe damage to the national infrastructure, affecting global markets as well as public safety".

Nuisance more than threat

But people in the hacking community like to put the threat in perspective.

Shortly after the 11 September attacks, Brian Martin of the security site attrition.org wrote: "First, let's put 'cyber-war/jihad/whatever' in perspective to the very real, physical attacks of September 11, 2001. Thousands of people were killed. No one was ever killed from a 'cyber attack'."

Right now it is more of a nuisance.

Peter Voth, the webmaster for the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) can attest to that.

He spent most of Tuesday morning restoring the FAS site after it was hacked by someone referring to himself as Pakistani's son.

Instead of the normal FAS homepage, Mr Voth found the message, "stop bomb !! stop kill !! pls bless my homestead !!"

FAS is a non-profit, non-governmental organisation conducting analysis and advocacy on science, technology and public policy, according to its website.

That includes national security, nuclear weapons, arms sales and biological hazards.

"We get a lot of traffic from people interested in terrorism and foreign affairs," Mr Voth said, adding, "not all of whom are aware that we are not an intelligence agency or wing of federal government".

Preliminary investigations showed no files appeared to have been tampered with, he said.

This was the first successful defacement of the site, to his knowledge. He said the FAS was working with a security company to make sure it did not happen again.

See also:

28 Sep 01 | Sci/Tech
Hackers 'branded as terrorists'
17 Sep 01 | Sci/Tech
FBI warns of surge in hacking
07 Mar 01 | Middle East
Hamas hit by porn attack
03 Nov 00 | Middle East
Israel lobby group hacked
10 Oct 01 | Americas
US names cyber-terrorism czar
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