Cyberwars: The Coming Arab E-Jihad; a Second Arab-Israeli Cyberwar May Be on the Horizon. Possible Scenarios Include Hacker Attacks on the Databases of Western Businesses and the Release of Viruses That Could Infect Computer Systems Worldwide. (Current Affairs)

By Trendle, Giles | The Middle East, April 2002 | Go to article overview

Cyberwars: The Coming Arab E-Jihad; a Second Arab-Israeli Cyberwar May Be on the Horizon. Possible Scenarios Include Hacker Attacks on the Databases of Western Businesses and the Release of Viruses That Could Infect Computer Systems Worldwide. (Current Affairs)


Trendle, Giles, The Middle East


The Arab-Israeli conflict on the ground appears to be evolving as Palestinian militants shift to new guerrilla warfare tactics and Israel responds with increasingly severe military measures. With such innovation and escalation in military tactics in the `real' world, there are expectations of a parallel intensification of activity in the virtual world. Both Arab and Israeli hackers as well as Internet security experts are all predicting a renewed outbreak of cyberwar.

Cyberwar is information warfare waged over the Internet. It involves disseminating information via websites or e-mail in order to raise awareness, mobilise support and create global networks of supporters. Beyond this propaganda aspect, cyberwar can also involve infiltrating and disrupting an enemy's computer networks and databases. In this regard, cyberwar has introduced a host of new `weapons' such as computer viruses, worms and Trojan horses which can wreak havoc on computer systems.

Cyberwar can enable a sole individual to damage the computer system of a government or `down' the website of a multinational corporation. The weapon of choice can be nothing more than a laptop computer wired to the Internet. The individual targets the chink in the armour of modern technology: namely, that no computer system is totally invulnerable to attack from a talented and determined hacker (or `cracker'). It is a form of warfare which can be conducted remotely and anonymously, with internet users often staging attacks from internet cafes to reduce the possibilities of counter-attack.

The Arab-Israeli cyberwar first erupted in 2000 when a group of Israeli hackers crippled the prime website of the Hizbullah group in Lebanon (www.hizbollah.org) by mobilising pro-Israeli supporters to `bomb' the site with automated floods of e-mail. Hizbullah retaliated by rallying pro-Arab supporters for a counter-attack which soon downed the main Israeli government website and the Israeli Foreign Ministry site. Tit-for-tat attacks continued for some months involving website defacements and denial of service attacks which effectively shut down websites. The cat-and-mouse cyber-duelling eventually subsided to a low level of intensity, but now many of those at the cyberfront believe a new outbreak of online hostilities is imminent.

"Currently there's only a little hacking activity related to the Arab-Israeli war," explained Ehud Tenenbaum, an Israeli hacker who gained notoriety in 1998 when, at the age of 18, he broke into the US Pentagon computer. "But I believe the war is going to start up again in a big way." Today Tenenbaum is Founder and Chief Technology Officer of 2XS (www.2xss.com), a company which is installing security systems to protect Israeli sites from future attacks.

Across the border in an office of Al-Manar television station belonging to Lebanon's Hizbullah, Ali Ayoub, the web-master for Hizbullah's 11 websites, and Mohamed Al Sayyid, one of the party's website developers, also predict a second Arab-Israeli cyberwar.

"I think a new cyberwar is coming," said Ayoub. "We publish pictures of massacres by Israel so that people can see what's happening. We expose what the Israelis are doing. That's why they're trying to shut down our sites."

Ayoub claims Hizbullah uses the Internet only as an `information resource' in its propaganda struggle against Israel. Such a claim suggests the party is conducting cyberwar in terms of communicating information in an effort to turn the balance of information and knowledge to its favour, given that the balance of conventional military forces is not. Ayoub conceded, however, that Hizbullah may be `missing an opportunity' by focusing solely on propaganda cyberwar.

Although Hizbullah denies using the Internet as a weapon by which to conduct a policy of hacking, it clearly recognises the importance of being online. The group recently set up its own private server after Inconet, the American server which previously hosted the Hizbullah sites, closed the group's account, citing it as a `terrorist' organisation. …

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