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West faces attacks from cyberspace

AL-QAEDA operatives may be planning cyber-attacks against Western interests by hacking into government and corporate computer systems.

Evidence from websites linked to Osama bin Laden’s network shows that radical Islamists are discussing the possibility of an electronic jihad and are becoming more technologically adept.

An Arabic-language site, Minbar ahl al-Sunna wal-Jama’a, which in the past has been a platform for al-Qaeda statements and claims of responsibility by associated groups, recently carried a hacker’s instruction manual.

A user calling himself “albattar” posted the manual on the site and discussed the incentives and motives for cyber-attacks as well as dividing targets into political, strategic, economic and individual categories.

The manual discussed attacks which could “contribute to the demise of a protected system” and about infiltrating private computers, which it claims is relatively easy.

The site has since been shut down but, as is common with radical forums, is likely to reappear elsewhere on the Internet.

US and British intelligence services know from al-Qaeda computers which have been seized during the arrest of suspects around the world that Islamists are researching cyber-crime and hacking technology.

Terrorist suspects with computer expertise and security training have been arrested in Britain and America.

Richard Clarke, President Bush’s former adviser on cyber security, has said that he fears al-Qaeda is trying “to grow an indigenous cyber warfare capability”. Mr Clarke said in a US television interview: “Some day we may see al-Qaeda, if it’s still alive and operating, use cyberspace as a vehicle for attacking infrastructure — not with bombs, but with bytes.”

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