Gangs of pro-Muslim computer hackers have unleashed a withering cyber attack on Danish and Western websites in the past week, escalating their defacement barrage to coincide with dozens of violent street-level demonstrations across the Arab world in protest at the publication of a cartoon depiction of the Prophet Mohammed.
The number of Danish websites alone - those carrying a '.dk' suffix - knocked offline in the past week numbered 578 between 30 January and 6 February, according to Zone-H.org, a cyber-crime observatory that tracks website defacements. Hundreds more websites of European, Israeli and American companies and private citizens have also been defaced during that period, with the vast majority occurring after the re-publication last week of the cartoons in European newspapers.
'The number is nearly doubling every day,' said Roberto Preatoni, the founder of Zone-H.org. A team of Zone-H technicians collect and verify reports of sabotaged Web sites from both victims and hackers. The number of attacked Web servers has been at record levels since the controversy reignited last week, Preatoni said.
'This is the largest ever attack directed against a single country, bigger than the Intifada, the Chinese-U.S. spy plane incident, and even the war in Iraq.'
It has been common practice for spirited young hackers and defacers to express their anger with foreign governments or multi-national corporations by hijacking their Web sites and scrawling some political message, often in the form of an expletive-filled rant, across a series of Web pages.
This current hack attack, the most intense ever recorded by Zone-H.org, is occurring as fierce anger erupted across the Arab and Islamic world over the weekend. Protesters set fire to the Danish Embassy in Beirut and at least five protesters died in violent demonstrations in Afghanistan. Muslims around the world have condemned a Danish newspaper for first publishing the satirical images of the Prophet Mohammed in September. As a show of support for press freedoms, the cartoons were re-printed last week in Italian, French and German newspapers, a move that has added to furore.
The victims of the cyber attacks ran the gamut of large and small websites, from estate agents in Essex to a Danish online gamer community called the 47th Royal Marines. As of Tuesday morning, the latter's site was still defaced to read 'Hacked by RedHackeR" with the following statement: "IM SORRY, STOP WAR, DON'T TOUCH ALL ISLAM COUNTRY! F[***] DENMARK, F[***] YOUR GOVERMENT!!!'
It was not immediately apparent if the hackers had successfully taken down any government or large corporate websites. A common message scrawled on the sites called for a boycott of Danish products, Preatoni said.
A worrying distinction of this attack is that it appears to be not just the work of angry script kiddies trying to earn respect among the hacker and defacer underground. 'You have intelligent people who suspended defacing maybe a year ago who have taken it up again just to voice their opinion for this occasion,' he added.