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Scepticism over cyber-jihad rumours

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Islamist hackers are reportedly making preparations to launch a cyber-jihad against Israeli and Western websites beginning on 11 November. Experts are split over whether to take the attacks seriously or not.

Rumours of the putative attack first surfaced in Israeli intelligence magazine DEBKAfile earlier this week. It reported that an Islamist website was calling on true believers to mount an attack on the forces of Western, Jewish, Israeli, Muslim apostate and Shiite Websites. The rumoured attack will supposedly focus on 15 websites initially before expanding its reach as "hundreds of thousands of Islamist hackers" join in.

DEBKAfile has a history of producing edgy stories about the defence and security landscape from an Israeli perspective that sometimes get it wrong. In 2003, for example, it reported former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein would use weapons of mass destruction against US forces, SC Magazine notes.

Nonetheless some experts such as Paul Henry, vice president of technology-evangelism at Secure Computing, are taking the threat seriously.

Rather than launching the supposed assault without notice and through a network of compromised machines, the Islamists are reportedly looking to rally recruits to download a package called Electronic Jihad Version 2.0. Instructions on how to use the malign version of Seti@Home for would-be cyber-jihadis will be made available across an impenetrable email network, the organisers of the effort reportedly claim.

"There are people claiming that the software has been written by a Saudi national and we don't know how many people have downloaded it," Henry said. "Today an attack using the tool is limited to only a DDoS attack. It is not difficult to repel a basic DDoS attack, but if enough users participate, it will fill your pipe."

Would-be combatants are being instructed that hurling malign packets at the forces of Zionism and Crusader Imperialism TM is every bit as "honourable" as taking up arms, DEBKAfile reports.

"Our sources say the instructions come in simple language and are organized in sections according to target. They offer would-be martyrs, who for one reason or another are unable to fight in the field, [the chance] to fulfil their jihad obligations on the Net. These virtual martyrs are assured of the same thrill and sense of elation as a jihadi on the 'battlefield'," it said.

Whether the thrills in line for "virtual martyrs" involve the fabled 72 virgins is not noted.

DEBKAfile speculates that the attack is a response to Western agencies' efforts to take down, or otherwise disrupt, the operations of Islamist websites.

It's not the first time rumours of a forthcoming cyber-jihad have surfaced. In December 2006, the US Department of Homeland Security warned banks and infrastructure firm of a possible electronic attack. Nothing happened. The DHS might argue that the warning caused the attack to be aborted or defences to be put in place in time.

Security expert Gadi Evron, who studied the recent cyberattacks in Estonia, is doubtful about danger or even newsworthingness of the supposed attack.

"Even if an attack is planned, it would likely be nothing new," Evron told IDG. "Cyber-jihad on the level of attacking websites happens every day for numerous causes by enthusiasts. The content of this warning is doubtful. There are not hundreds of thousands of infosec workers worldwide, not to mention working for al-Qaeda." ®

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