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Iraq tensions could spawn 'global hacking' | (UPI) -- Global hacking may increase as the United States and Iraq move closer to war, the FBI warned yesterday.

Activity could include Web site defacement and "zombie" denial of service attacks.

Much of the nation's vital infrastructure -- such as communications, transportation and utilities -- remains dependent upon online computer systems.

The new warning came in the midst of extraordinary security precautions in the nation's capital, where officials said the threat of terrorism is greater than at any time since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The national terrorism advisory has been raised from "elevated" to "high," its second-highest level.

But an FBI spokesman said Wednesday the hacking warning is not based on any specific intelligence.

"There is no new intelligence that would indicate al Qaida is planning any major computer network attacks," spokesman Paul Bresson said.

The warning is "in response to analysis, an assessment given the current climate. There is no new or substantial intelligence," he said.

The FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center posted the warning on its Web site at

NIPC "is issuing this advisory to heighten the awareness of an increase in global hacking activities as a result of the increasing tensions between the United States and Iraq," the site said.

"Recent experience has shown that during a time of increased international tension, illegal cyber activity: spamming, web defacements, denial of service attacks, etc., often escalates," NIPC warned.

Distributed denial of service, or DDoS, attacks are formed in two stages. First an online attacker plants packets in scores or even hundreds of innocent computer systems, turning them into "zombies" without the knowledge of their operators.

At a pre-arranged time, or at a signal from the attacker, the zombie systems launch waves of e-mail with "spoofed," or fictitious, return addresses at a specific target.

The target is overwhelmed while trying to answer the spoofed inquiries.

The activity "can originate within another country, which is party to the tension," NIPC said. "It can be state-sponsored or encouraged, or come from domestic organizations or individuals independently."

Or the activity can come from "sympathetic individuals and organizations worldwide."

NIPC said potential attacks may have several motives:

-- "Political activism targeting Iraq or those sympathetic to Iraq by self-described 'patriot' hackers."

-- "Political activism or disruptive attacks targeting United States systems by those opposed to any potential conflict with Iraq."

-- And "criminal activity masquerading or using the current crisis to further personal goals."

NIPC said those hackers sympathetic to the United States should not try to retaliate.

Such activity "is illegal and punishable as a felony. The U.S. government does not condone so-called 'patriotic hacking' on its behalf. Further, even (patriotic hackers) can be fooled into launching attacks against their own interests by exploiting malicious code that purports to attack the other side, when in fact it is designed to attack the interests of the side sending it. In this and other ways (patriotic hackers) risk becoming tools of their enemy."

Bill Murray, a spokesman for the FBI's cyber division and NIPC, said, "We saw a significant amount of hacking activity during the EP-3 incident," when the Chinese military forced down a U.S. intelligence aircraft. "We saw domestic hackers defacing pro-Chinese Web sites and vice versa."

When U.S. hackers try to attack foreign sites, it hurts U.S. law enforcement, he said. "We're spending more of our time and effort investigating this crime" when it could be better spent elsewhere.

NIPC urged network computer owners and operators to review their defensive systems, and to update their virus protections and filters.

The NIPC site also listed a number of links where computer system operators can find additional security checklists.

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