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Friday, 14 February, 2003, 10:20 GMT
US hackers told to leave Iraq alone
US military command and control
US military is heavily reliant on computer systems
The FBI has warned American hackers not to launch cyber attacks against Washington's foes.

An alert by the FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC) warned that "patriotic hacking" was a crime and could even backfire.

The Center said it issued the warning "to heighten the awareness of an increase in global hacking activities as a result of the increasing tensions between the United States and Iraq."

In the past, political protests by hackers have erupted into a virtual war of words. Most commonly these hackers have defaced websites, leaving messages in support of causes like the Palestinian intifada and Osama Bin Laden.

Punishable felony

The FBI said that recent experience showed that an increase in international tension was mirrored in the online world with a rise in cyber activity such as web defacements and denial of service attacks.

Even 'patriotic hackers' can be fooled into launching attacks against their own interests by exploiting malicious code that purports to attack the other side when in fact it is designed to attack the interests of the side sending it

NIPC advisory
In the light of dispute with Iraq over weapons of mass destruction, the FBI said people needed to be ready for hack attacks, either by hackers targeting the US or by what it called "self-described 'patriotic' hackers."

It issued a stern warning for American hackers who might decide to take the law into their own hands.

"Regardless of the motivation, the NIPC reiterates such activity is illegal and punishable as a felony," said the alert.

"The US Government does not condone so-called 'patriotic hacking' on its behalf."

Tools of the enemy

The FBI appears concerned that a virus created to attack Iraqi computer systems could do more damage to the US than Iraq.

"Even 'patriotic hackers' can be fooled into launching attacks against their own interests by exploiting malicious code that purports to attack the other side when in fact it is designed to attack the interests of the side sending it.

"In this and other ways 'patriotic hackers' risk becoming tools of their enemy," said the NIPC.

The US military has never regarded computer hacking as a particularly useful part of information warfare, especially against a country like Iraq, say experts.

Only about 12,000 of the 23.5m Iraqis are online and most computers with sensitive information are stand-alone and not connected to the internet.

By comparison the US is far more dependent on connected computer systems and far more exposed to the risk of a cyber attack.

Washington is increasing millions of dollars on computer and network security as well as training an army of workers to thwart potential cyber attacks.

And last week it emerged that the US is drawing up guidelines for cyber attacks against countries such as Iraq.


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