Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sectarian Conflict Goes "Cyber"

The Washington Post reports on ongoing Sunni-Shiite cyber-skirmishes:
Sunni and Shiite Internet partisans are waging a tit-for-tat hacking war. For now, Sunni extremist sites are taking the brunt.

In September, hackers targeted what Iranian news media estimated to be 300 Shiite sites, many of them operated by Shiite religious leaders in Iran. Targets included the official site of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the leading Shiite cleric in Iraq. For several days, visitors to that site were connected instead to a YouTube video featuring American talk-show host Bill Maher mocking what he said were the cleric's edicts, or fatwas, on sexual matters. Aides to Sistani later denied that he had issued such edicts.

A group called Ghoroub XP, based in the United Arab Emirates, asserted responsibility. Its claim has not been publicly confirmed by any authorities.

Alleged Shiite hackers responded in force. By Oct. 1, hundreds of sites run by Sunnis, including those of religious figures, had vanished. In their place appeared a site featuring an Iranian flag superimposed over the intense gaze of a smiling woman.

There also was a message, citing a Koranic verse: "And one who attacketh you, attack him in like manner as he attacked you."

The site of the Saudi-owned network al-Arabiya was among those attacked, forcing the news organization to move its site briefly to another domain. Al-Arabiya managers issued statements saying their coverage was balanced and neutral.

One Iranian, who answered questions submitted in writing and was identified as a hacker by sources familiar with the online religious world in Tehran, asserted responsibility for disrupting one Sunni site and said Sunni extremists online provoked the attack.

"The war is only between Shiite groups in Iran and Wahhabis," said the writer, who declined to be further identified. Wahhabis are followers of a stringent Saudi-born branch of Sunni Islam.

"The way of hacking is that they attack and we respond," he wrote. "The future will reveal our next step."
The article also highlighted the success of ongoing cyber-warfare efforts at attacking and shutting down Al-Qaeda's online information networks.

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