A Sunni-Shiite battle of the website hackers
While some Middle East experts say tit-for-tat cyberattacks on Islamic websites amounts to a virtual sectarian battle, others suspect third-party agitators could be the culprits.
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Both Kohlmann and McCants say they see no connection between Al Qaeda's online problems and the Sunni-Shiite tit-for-tat hacking.Skip to next paragraph
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Some observers say this latest online duel, although not new, has been going on longer and seems more professional than earlier bouts.
Some observers raise the prospect that the attacks are the work of a mischievous third party.
But most observers believe that the hackers are Iranian Shiites and Sunni Arabs.
One well-placed Saudi source says the Sunni hackers were from different countries and primarily Salafis, conservative Sunni Muslims, most of whom view Shiites with disdain. "What was interesting," he says, "is that [the hacking] came from all over the Arab world."
That supports the view of some observers that the Sunni-Shiite cyberwar is being orchestrated to an extent.
"There's no way to walk the cat back, in terms of identifying who's hacking," says Kamran Bokhari, a senior analyst for the Middle East with Stratfor, an Austin, Tex.-based private intelligence agency [Editor's note: The original version misidentified senior analyst for the Middle East with Stratfor].
"But these are not individuals with a lot of time on their hands" to spend on hacking, he adds. "It seems like a concerted effort, and intelligence agencies on both sides have to be involved. [The hackers are] definitely being encouraged, to say the least."
Iran's "Revolutionary Guard have their own group of hackers," he notes.
During the religious holiday of Eid-al-Fitr that marks the end of Ramadan, some of the hackers, apparently Shiite, offered a truce of sorts on a Web page featuring a bouquet of flowers and two clasped hands. The olive branch did not last long.
A little over a week later, Al Arabiya's website was hacked in what station spokesman Nasser Al Sarami called "a complicated, well-organized attack" by "extremists."
He said the hackers broke into the database of the US company, Network Solutions, and captured Al Arabiya's domain name, forcing the channel's website to move to a temporary location.
Network Solutions said in an e-mail that it cannot comment on "details pertaining to specific customers."
Al Arabiya website editorial manager, Anas Fouda, suggested in an online statement that the attacks were because the Saudi-owned station is "unbiased" in its reporting. Because of that, "we are constantly accused of backing the opposite side."
Mr. Fouda adds that though the hackers claim to be Shiite, there is no proof of this.