Hackers attack al-Qaida, cripple communications

By on June 30, 2011, 8:00 AM

Did you think all hackers just want to take down major corporations? Think again. A group of hackers have reportedly managed to shut down al-Qaida's Internet communications to the world, interrupting the terrorist organization's flow of videos and communiqués.

"Al-Qaida's online communications have been temporarily crippled, and it does not have a single trusted distribution channel available on the Internet," Evan Kohlmann, of Flashpoint Global Partners, which monitors the group's communications, told MSNBC. "My guess is that it will take them at least several days more to repair the damage and get their network up and functioning again," he said.

It is unknown who is behind the attack that targeted al-Qaida's Internet communications systems, but it appears that it was a well-coordinated plan that spanned the past few days and used relatively sophisticated techniques. There are anarchistic co-operatives known as hacktivists, like Anonymous and LulzSec, that have launched several high-profile cyber-attacks in recent months designed to make a statement. Either group would have claimed responsibility by now, but this hasn't happened. The perpetrators were likely sponsored by a Western government, based on the nature of the attack.

Earlier this month, it was estimated that 25 percent of US hackers work with the US government. Those are mainly informants, and it's not clear how many of these hackers have been recruited by the FBI or the Secret Service. A large team isn't needed to fight al-Qaida on the Internet, but it needs to be trained properly.

Last month, the US disclosed its International Strategy for Cyberspace. The document revealed the US government could respond to cyber-attacks with military force, especially if someone were to pull off a serious cyberspace hack against the US, its allies, its partners, or in a way to threaten its interests.

That is meant as a last resort, but the US is already at war with al-Qaida. Hacking is likely just one of America's many methods of battle, though whether this particular attack was sponsored stateside we can't say for sure.

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