Arab Web Sites Plagued by Attacks


Thursday, April 17th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6



DOHA, Qatar (AP) _ The war in Iraq set off a rash of online vandalism against Arab Web sites, site administrators and security experts say, with dozens of Web sites attacked.

At Islamonline.net, one of the most popular destinations for reports and analysis on Islamic affairs, traffic doubled after U.S. forces invaded Iraq. So did cyberattacks, which reached 250 a day, according to Mutiullah Ta'eb, the site's general coordinator.

Another attack put Arabia.com, a Dubai-based Web site, off line the third day of the war.

It is not clear how many sites have been targeted in the attacks, which typically sought to alter Web pages or bring a site down.

Ta'eb of Doha-based Islamonline said hacking attempts also stepped up after the Sept. 11 attacks.

``It is not fair,'' says Mariam al-Hajiry, the site's administrator. ``But I guess it is all part of the challenge that we have taken upon our shoulders ... to be able to deliver our message.''

Islamonline contains information about Islam in English with a moderate and measured tone, and does not express the kind of extreme stances found on militant sites.

Citing security concerns, al-Hajiry would not say what kind of attacks Islamonline has faced.

The most high-profile Arab Web site targeted by hackers is that of satellite news channel Al-Jazeera.

The channel, an unusually outspoken voice in the Arab world, based in Doha, drew intense criticism after it carried Iraqi TV footage of dead and captive U.S. soldiers that U.S. networks declined to air.

Soon after, the site's English and Arabic pages were replaced by pro-American hackers who called themselves the ``Freedom Cyber Force Militia.''

Similarly, pro-Islamic hackers have defaced some U.S. and British Web sites and flooded some with anti-war graffiti.

``Indeed, this has been happening a lot lately,'' said Mikko Hypponen, manager of the antivirus research department at the Helsinki-based security firm F-Secure Corp.

``Of course, all this activity is unofficial and is not done by the real state-sponsored network warfare units _ but by independent groups and lone hackers,'' Hypponen said.

Experts say the importance of the phenomenon should not be overstated. Though it threatens surfers' ability to communicate and gather information freely, it is not real war.

``If cyberwarfare was truly effective it would be likely that we would see terrorist groups and nation states using the Internet for warfare rather than using troops and missiles,'' said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at security firm Sophos Inc. near Boston.

Hackers deface hundreds of Web sites every day, mostly without political messages, and the percentage of attacks related to the war is apparently small.

With most Arab media controlled by their governments, the Internet gives Arabs access to an unusually broad range of views. However, only 1.7 percent of the Arab world, or 7.4 million people, had Internet access late last year, according to the Madar Research Group of the United Arab Emirates.