What if we told you that a group of cyber-extremists are hacking into the websites of major American banks?
What if we told you that these self-proclaimed “hacktivists” have pledged to deny customers access to banking websites unless a specific anti-Muslim video is removed from YouTube?
And what if we told you that these hacking attempts have been successful on multiple occasions? What if we told that thousands of bank customers couldn’t log into their accounts for several hours or days?
Sounds crazy, right? Stranger than fiction? Well, it’s real. And it’s happening now.
The Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Cyber Fighters Group has been launching distributed-denial-of-service attacks, or DDoS attacks, against the websites of major American banks.
A DDoS attack blocks users from accessing a computerized or digital resource. In this case, banking customers can’t log in to their accounts.
In mid-December, both U.S. Bank and PNC Bank said their websites were hit with DDoS attacks. A few days later, thousands of Wells Fargo customers found themselves unable to login to their accounts, as well.
The group claimed responsibility for the U.S. Bank and PNC Bank attacks. They did not comment on the Wells Fargo attack.
In October, the group claimed responsibility for DDoS attacks on the websites of Capital One, SunTrust and Regions Financial.
The group’s most recent statement said that they would narrow their target to five banks: U.S. Bank, PNC Bank, SunTrust Bank, JP Morgan Chase bank, and Bank of America.
“The attacks will be persistent (until we’ve achieved our goal of) eliminating injustice and stopping the insults to the prophet of mercy and removing the offensive film,” the group said in a statement, according to eHackingNews.
The group also advised the five banks to prepare statements apologizing to customers for lack of online access.
“The 5 major US banks will be attacked and we subsequently suggest that from now on they prepare their context of sorrowfulness to the customers of banks because of inaccessibility,” the group wrote on Pastebin, a website used by programmers.
In an e-mail interview with American Banker magazine in November, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Cyber Fighters Group says that it wants Google to remove a movie trailer from YouTube titled “The Innocence of Muslims.” The group says that the movie trailer is disparaging to the Islamic religion and culture.
Until Google removes the video, the group says, it will continue to attack banking websites.
“In the system where the religion and sacred things are not honorable, and only material, money and finance have value, this seems a suitable and effective way of act and can influence governors and decision makers,” the group wrote.
They identified themselves as a loosely-affiliated group of programmers and hackers who don’t share a common geographic base and don’t operate under any centralized leadership.
“There is no special leader,” al Qassam wrote to American Banker magazine. “In fact collective decision making leads us to move.”
One thing is certain: the group is skilled at hacking.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta described the scale and speed of their attacks as “unprecedented.”
Panetta also said that cyber-terrorism is a major threat to the U.S. He warned of a “cyber Pearl Harbor.”
Some security experts believe that the group is hacking into computers that host websites and/or push content out to other servers. These computers are more connected to the web than an average personal computer, and can amplify the strength of a DDoS attack.
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