March 8, 2011: Hacktivists are non-government organizations, or even individuals, who launch Internet based attacks in the name of a favorite cause. After Hamas declared war on Israel on November 15th, many Western hacktivists declared themselves allies of Hamas and launched attacks on Israel. Like Hamas, the hacktivists promptly began issuing press releases detailing their victories. But, like the Hamas claims, the hacktivist victories were illusions and fabrications. Despite over eight million attacks (nearly all of them automated) a day, the main targets (Israeli media, government, and military sites) were largely unscathed. The Israelis were prepared, because they have been under attack for a long time. Moslem attackers have not been skilled enough to do much, if any damage. While the many recent cyber attacks against Israel were in the name of Hamas and Gaza, few were from Arab countries. Most were from hackers living in the West.
A major player in this attack was the hacktivist group Anonymous. While Wikileaks has shown some care in not revealing information that would get counter-terror operatives (or informants) killed, a similar operation, Anonymous, has not demonstrated any restraint. For example, in an effort to get other hackers to stop pursuing Wikileaks supporters, the Anonymous crew broke into the network of a firm that did counter-terrorism work (HBGary Federal) and put on the Internet emails revealing how hacking software was used to gain access to terrorist computers and communications. Among the more interesting items revealed was the widespread use of USB thumb drives to gain access to the terrorist computers. Another revelation described how laptop ExpressCard ports could be used as well. The techniques revealed are not rendered completely useless, just less effective. Islamic terror groups tend to attract the less educated and people who don't pay attention as much as they should. But for the sharper terrorists, life just got a little easier and safer.
That was a wakeup call for many computer security and counter-intelligence business, demonstrating that the least vulnerability in their own computer security could be exploited by someone with some decent hacker skills.
For over a decade Moslem hacktivists have been trying to muster an effective Cyber War capability. So far they have failed. Even before September 11, 2001, there were attempts to build an alliance of anti-U.S., anti-Israel, and anti-India hackers who could pool their efforts to achieve a more significant impact. While there were more attacks against U.S. and Israeli web sites after September 11, 2001, these two nations contained the world's largest concentration (per capita) of Internet talent and were not very vulnerable to attack. Major commercial and government operations in both these nations have also been taking computer security more seriously since September 11, 2001, which has also made it harder for the casual (often an anti-social teenage male) hacker to make much of an impression.
But the threat is still there (as detected by monitoring chat rooms, email, and other sources) and is taken seriously. Some groups, however, operate openly (more or less). These groups call themselves hacktivists (activists who use low level hacking to publicize their positions). A decade ago there were three hacktivist groups prominent in backing the Dark Side in the War on Terrorism: USG (Unix Security Guards), an anti-Israel alliance that claimed responsibility for many known attacks against Israeli sites, WFD (World's Fantabulous Defacers), an alliance of 12 Pakistani hacker groups that claimed (or was blamed) responsibility for hundreds of attacks (mainly against Indian sites) between November 2000 and September 11, 2001, and AIC (Anti-India Crew) another Pakistani hacker alliance that also claimed to have made hundreds of attacks against India. Nothing much came of these three groups or the equally boastful successors.
Note that Pakistan has a long history with software development and hacking. The first computer virus to spread worldwide (the Brain virus), was created in Pakistan by Pakistani programmers. If the Islamic world is going to recruit world class hackers for hacktivism or something more serious, the manpower was likely to come from Pakistan. But that never happened. Anyone in a Moslem country with hacker quality computer skills wants to monetize them, not risk death or life in prison supporting Islamic fanatics. Thus the Islamic terrorists have been dependent on Western hacktivists and not the most competent ones.
The Islamic hactivists have an image problem, in that many of them have supported Islamic terrorist groups and urged everyone to kill infidels (non-Moslems). Since Islamic terrorists have proved more adept at killing fellow Moslems, you would think Islamic hacktivists would protest against this. Most have not and continue to ascribe the misdeeds of Islamic terrorists as part of a vast American and Israeli conspiracy. This attitude does not work when you are trying to create effective hacker tools either.