Cyber Attacks And Politics In The Middle East

It is logically understood that what is happening offline is connected with online activities and vice versa. The situation in the Middle East and North Africa since the beginning of Tunisian revolution, is heating up on the Internet!

The Internet is one of the battlefields for activists. They used the Internet as a very effective method to organize, communicate, training, and spread the word. Other people used the Internet to spread the word with more aggressive methods such as websites defacement and DDoS attacks. DDoS is the most effective and complicated method in “Hactivism”.

Hactivism is the compiled action of “activism” and “hacking”. It is an advanced form of spreading the word through technology to change something in the society. When politics meets technology, you can see real examples for Hactivism. One of those examples is Anonymous Group and their Operations in TunisiaAlgeriaEgypt, and Libya. Anonymous also offer support for activists on how to bypass Internet censorship and also provided the care package which includes instructions on how to deal with tear gas, dogs, and other on street activities when you face riot police!

When we talk about website defacement, the situation is different. You can find easily the work of professional hackers and also script kiddies. But most website defacements are done for fun, propaganda, politics, thrill, ego, and financial gain. Any website defacement could be easily targeted due to previous reasons. According to Zone-H, the website defacement archive, the defacements for political reasons in 2010 is very high. Middle East is a very complicated region with lots of financial and political troubles. By end of 2010 and beginning of 2011, the defacements for political reasons are heating up in the region. Hackers or even script kiddies are using variety of methods to carry out the attack against websites and web applications such as server vulnerabilities, application vulnerabilities, password sniffing, and SQL injection.

Hactivism knows no boundaries and also classified as transnational action. Hactivism groups can carry out their attack from anywhere in the world. Tracing back is sometime complicated if not impossible due to the availability of sophisticated tools. Those sophisticated tools allow any script kiddy to launch very complicated attack against any online target. In our case in the Middle East, the targets are always one of the following:

–          Government websites

–          Country ISPs or ICT infrastructure

–          Political Parties’ websites

–          Media websites (TV Channels, Newspapers etc)

Theoretically, any online target with different ideology could become a target for Hactivism!

This is for sure will be problem for technical people who are working in organizations with political ideology, or even independent media and human rights!

According to Berkman Center for Internet and Society research, I found many independent media websites attacked in the Middle East. While it is very easy to organize and launch such attacks, it is very hard to defend. That is good reason why Hacktivists are using this method to target governments and large organizations.  

Website defacement is not hard as well but it doesn’t require many people to get involved. Anyone could be able to deface a website if he has the right tools and knows how to do it. The hacking websites even in Arabic along with vulnerability databases and readymade exploits make the work easier!

If you compile those types of attacks with politics in the Middle East, you will find many cases. While Anonymous group used their capabilities to attack Egyptian government websites during Egypt Revolution, other people hacked Aljazeera website!

Anonymous were against Internet censorship in Egypt and attacked Egyptian government websites because of using violence against protester. Hackers of Aljazeera website suspected to be the opponents of pro-democracy movement in Egypt.

Even Gaddafi recruited hackers to hack anti-government websites because he lost control over everything. They also hacked Spanish government websites!

Iranian Cyber Army hacked the Voice of America (VOA) website and put a message called on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to “hear the voice of oppressed nations

A team of Algerian hackers also hacked many websites in solidarity with Egypt and Libya.

We are moving forward to new era…The rise of politically motivated attacks!

As Internet, technology, and communications are shaping new societies; I expect that in 2011 we will see more organizations, governments, and private sectors in the Middle East facing serious attacks!