Cyberspace wars


WHILE bombs and bullets have been raining down on Gaza, a different kind of warfare has been conducted in cyberspace – and it’s nowhere near as one-sided as Israel’s assault on a defenceless civilian population.

The Stop the War Coalition’s website is the most high-profile British casualty of a conflict that extends far beyond the boundaries of Israel and Palestine to include NATO and US military websites, Facebook and any number of sites judged to be “pro-Hamas.”

In the past couple of weeks, Stop the War’s site has been hit by multiple denial-of-service (DoS) attacks and vandalised by what the coalition says were “professional” hackers. John Pilger’s site has also been attacked, according to Stop the War.

A group of Israeli students calling themselves Help Israel Win has published a software tool to carry out DoS attacks. It’s been downloaded by thousands of people, even though Help Israel Win’s own site has been hit repeatedly by DoS attacks and even though the software is dangerously similar to that used by spammers and other shady cyber-criminals to create “botnets” of PCs which have been enslaved without the owner’s knowledge.

Hackers using the logo of the Jewish Internet Defence Force, which denies involvement saying that it does not break the law and merely campaigns against online anti-semitism, have attacked pro-Palestinian Facebook groups.

And Israeli military forces reportedly hacked into a Hamas-run TV station

On the other side of the conflict, hackers broke into and defaced websites belonging to the US army’s military district of Washington, Washington’s homeland security HQ and the NATO parliamentary assembly. At time of writing, a week after the attacks, the first two of those were offline again.

The pro-Palestinian side is rather less powerless in cyberspace than the real world and supporters in other countries are more able to act. US security consultant Bruce Jenkins reports that “hacker groups from Iran, Lebanon, Morocco and Turkey” are weighing in against Israel.

This kind of international involvement is a clue to the appeal of cyber-warfare during crises like the Gaza assault. Hacking is mostly ineffective at silencing the other side, except where it stops groups from, say, organising an emergency protest at short notice.

But, like sit-ins and street protests, it gives people around the world and in Gaza itself a sense that they’re not so powerless – that they’re part of something bigger which can win in the long run. So, ineffective maybe, but certainly not useless.

How Stop the War became a victim

THE Stop the War website has had a torrid time of it since hackers broke in on January 9.

Stop the War techie Adie Cousins says that he’s been “run ragged” by the continual battle to keep the site online in the face of what he calls a “serious” hacking group.

Indeed, when I spoke to him on Saturday evening after the London Gaza protest, he confided that it was “the first few hours I’ve been away from it in a week.” The site crashed yet again the moment he turned his back on it.

Most of the problems, Cousins believes, are probably caused by denial-of-service (DoS) attacks or the patched-up site struggling to cope with a surge of popular interest in Gaza.

DoS, a common cyber-warfare technique which is illegal in this country, involves swamping a site with so much traffic that it can’t cope and collapses under the load. It’s often done by creating a “botnet” of tens or even hundreds of thousands of computers infected with malicious software that allow them to be controlled remotely.

But Stop the War’s troubles all stem from the January 9 hacking attack, in which the culprits not only changed data to stop the site from being displayed but also left malicious code on the server which is proving very difficult to eradicate.

It’s this, along with the manner in which the hackers probably broke in, which leads Cousins to believe that the attackers have “money or serious resources or incredibly talented people working for them.”

The site runs on Joomla (, a piece of open-source software which Cousins reckons is very solid, with “no known security vulnerabilities” in the version Stop the War is using.

The vandals probably got in using a technique called SQL injection, which involves tricking a website into running malicious code when it’s expecting you to enter an email address or something similar (

It’s commonly used by hackers against the unwary but shouldn’t have been easy to do against the Stop the War site. Cousins says that “we have taken all the basic precautions to prevent that. Whatever mechanism they’ve used is not something that’s common.”

The attackers have, he says, managed to leave behind a bit of code which repeatedly changes the administrator password in an attempt to “deny us the possibility of updating the site,” which means he has to keep a constant eye on it and regularly change the password back.

Unfortunately, Stop the War almost certainly won’t be able to trace the attackers. Their identity isn’t known, only their IP address, which is easy to fake. Indeed, there’s no evidence that zionists are to blame except for the timing of the attack.

On the plus side, though, Cousins reports that several security experts have volunteered to help Stop the War track down the problem and take steps to prevent a repeat.

“Out of this, we will become much stronger online than we have been in the past. So it’s definitely backfired.”