iviews.com, one of only several online news services providing news and opinion from Muslim perspectives, has become the latest casualty in the cyber war between pro-Palestinians and pro-Israelis.
On February 13, at approximately 1pm EST, a hacker who identified himself as an Israeli using the online name "v0dka" seized the site and de-faced it with an anti-Muslim message.
An iviews.com technician said the hacker accessed the site's server through an Israeli Internet service provider. The hacker was able to damage the site by deleting some files from the server. The site's administrators say they could have revived the site within minutes, but the staff wanted to be certain that all of the files in the server had remained in tact.
The attack was immediately reported to the FBI and an investigation is underway.
iviews.com was just the latest of an estimated 45 Islamic and Arabic sites to fall victim to pro-Israeli hackers. But unlike the current conditions on the ground in occupied Palestine, this new Middle East cyber war is one that the Palestinians and their sympathizers seem to be winning. Pro-Palestinian hackers say they have defaced and/or hacked approximately 360 Israeli sites, but they blame the Israelis for starting the war.
"It was Sharon and his soldiers storming the sacred grounds of Al-Aqsa that provoked the Palestinian uprising against the illegal Israeli military occupation, and it was Israeli hackers who with their irresponsible actions provoked the cyber war," said a member of the pro-Palestinian hacker group World's Fantabulous Defacers (WFD).
Wired magazine further substantiates their claims in a November report, which detailed how attackers were able to take down Web sites affiliated with the pro-Palestinian movement. By setting up a website called Wizel.com, the pro-Israeli attackers were able to use FloodNet, which reloads a targeted web page several times per minute, thereby rendering the site inoperable.
Six different pro-Palestinian and Islamic sites, including those representing Hizbollah and Hamas, were victims of the FloodNet device. The hackers were also able to replace the Hizbollah home page with an image of the Israeli flag and a recording of the Israeli national anthem. They also flooded Hamas.org with pornographic images and flooded chat rooms of a popular Jordan-based web portal, albawaba.com, causing the site to crash. Some of these sites have not yet recovered from the attacks.
Pro-Palestinian internet users quickly rallied and retaliated, successfully attacking Wizel.com along with several other high-profile Israeli websites, including Web sites belonging to Israeli Defense Forces, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Bank of Israel and the Tel-Aviv Stock Exchange. The attack also extended to NetVision, the largest Internet service provider in Israel, cutting off service to Internet users for at least several hours and bringing down an estimated 30 prominent Israeli websites.
Shortly after the outbreak of this Middle East cyber war, the National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC), a relatively new department under the FBI which enforces anti-hacking laws in the U.S., advised websites to be aware of "an increased level of cyber activity against web sites related to Israel and pro-Palestinian organizations." The NIPC also warned that U.S. government and private sector Web sites may become potential targets, but said that most of the attacks had, until then, been "transitory in nature and do not pose a threat of lasting damage".
But that warning came before the war escalated, when on November 8, a pro-Muslim hacker using the handle "Doctor Nuker" accessed the server for the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, pinching and publicly posting credit cards of 700 of its members. The hackers also distributed a list of 3,100 e-mail addresses of the organization's supporters. AIPAC's homepage was replaced with a message decrying Israel's oppression and violent crackdown against the Palestinian people.
"The hack is to protest against the atrocities in Palestine by the barbarian Israeli soldiers and their constant support by the U.S. government," wrote Doctor Nuker, the founder of the Pakistani Hackerz Club.
The back-and-forth attacks between supporters of Israel and Palestine have continued, and several popular Muslim American sites have become casualties. In December, suspected pro-Israeli hackers attacked the Web site of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) by de-facing it with the Israeli flag and Zionist propaganda.
But ISNA system administrators say that in spite of the apparently well-planned attack, they were able to keep the damage to a minimal and the site was restored within 15 minutes.
WFD is also credited with the hacking of the Web site of the newly-elected Israeli Prime Minister, hardliner Arial Sharon just two days before the elections.
And groups such as WFD have said it will continue its campaign of "hactivism" a brand of hacking in which websites are defaced with messages about a particular cause. In the case of WFD, its style is to simply de-face a Web site with messages about the suffering of Muslims in Palestine, Kashmir, Bosnia and elsewhere. The group says it does not destroy anything within a site's database.
WFD also hinted at a much larger campaign, saying it plans to hit more "high-profile" sites in the future.
"Expect more attacks similar to our hack of butcher Ariel Sharon's election campaign site," said the group. "This is our way of fighting back against the blatant injustices perpetrated by Israeli oppressors who have, for 53 years, continued to oppress...the Palestinian people."
Declining to provide specific information on the ages and nationalities of the group's members, a spokesperson for WFD did say its members come from more than 5 countries around the world, and some are Muslim.
They say they received their training by reading material related to network security. And in spite of what many have thought, the group says it is not affiliated with Hamas or Hizbollah but says it supports these groups "fervently because their cause is just, and they continue to fight against the oppression and subjugation of an Israeli tyrant".
The group says it does not fear prosecution from the U.S. federal authorities because it believes NIPC will not pursue hackers who do not damage files in their attacks. Furthermore, they say none of the group's members live in the United States, making it more difficult for the government to prosecute.