'Hacktivists' wage Iraq war online
(AFP)- Nicosia, March 28
As battles rage in the Iraqi desert, pro- and anti-war "hacktivists" are using virtual weapons to take out enemy websites and cause online shock and awe.
The internet activists fall roughly into three categories: patriotic Americans, Islamic extremists and peace activists who back neither side in the Iraq conflict but are against war.
It was presumably members of the first category who attacked the website of the controverisal Arabic TV news station Al-Jazeera.
Waves of spam, or electronic junk mail, knocked its website out for three days this week, apparently orchestrated by US hackers incensed over its footage of dead US and British soldiers.
Visitors who did manage to get through to the site were on Thursday redirected by a mischievous hacker to a web page depicting a red, white and blue US map with the slogan "God Bless Our Troops."
A suspected extremist Islamic group meanwhile hacked early this week into an internet bulletin board run in the United States by a high school student in the town of Homer in Alaska, press reports said Friday.
They turned it into an Al-Qaeda propaganda site that called for attacks on the United States in reply to the war on Iraq.
Across the United States, federal, state and local government sites have been hit with anti-war slogans and rude messages directed at President George W Bush.
Sites such as the Electrohippie Collective -- which dubs its site the Free Range Activism Website -- have been encouraging anti-war attacks, offering downloadable programs that can run "cyber sit-ins" from the user's computer.
In Spain, www.noalaguerra.org, which means "no to war", organized a spam attack on the official site of the ruling Popular Party, whose leader Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar supports the war on Iraq.
More than 100,000 e-mails hit the site's servers on Thursday, knocking it out for most of the day, according to technicians at the party headquarters.
A US government report on Monday said hack attacks had spiked in response to the US-led military action against Iraq, disrupting websites operated by businesses, government and the military.
The attacks were "taking a toll on businesses through customer service interruption (denial of service), malicious e-mails and viruses, data and credit card piracy, identity theft and loss of reputation," the State Department report said.
Apart from standard hacking activities, four worms and viruses have been identified that spread as attachments to e-mail which seek to exploit interest in the Iraq war, says F-Secure, a Finnish antivirus software company.
One of the worms, called Prune, has a subject line such as "US Government Material - Iraq Crisis," an F-Secure executive told media this week.
The worm is apparently aimed at people with friends or relatives in the military who want to get information about the crisis and are tricked into opening the attachment and activating the worm, which then tries to erase operating system files.
"Almost 10,000 defacements have been reported or confirmed during the past week and it is clear that the actual number is much higher," F-secure said in a statement this week.
A similar increase in online activism occurred in 1999, when the United States and NATO launched air strikes on federal Yugoslavia because of its role in Kosovo.
But it looks like the Iraq war, increasingly an electronically-powered conflict in the field, is also taking computer "hacktivism" to new heights.