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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 25th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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Al Qaeda to help in anti-spam war?

4 December 2006

The US government has warned that al Qaeda is about to mount an all-out attack against a range of the country's financial services.

While some commentators have dismissed the claims as being unfounded or simply hot air -- citing that the terror organisation simply doesn't have the resources to effectively bring down such sites and/or services, others are not so sure.

Chances are that those who are trusted with financial dealings that total billions of dollars a year, have pretty good defences against hack-attacks and right now they'll be spending a fortune double-checking that all the hatches are battened and the cyber-locks are secured.

But there is one avenue for attack that I'm sure al Qaeda will have at its disposal, especially given that it is an organisation seldom found short of hard currency.

I'm talking about denial of service (DOS) attacks of course.

But just how could the terror group muster enough resources to take out sturdy online services such as Down Jones and various banking groups across the USA?

And how would such an attack be a bonus in the war against spam?

Well about the only chance that al Qaeda has of making a ripple in the financial cyber-pond is to rent some fairly significant bot-nets from the evil sods who create them.

Those are the same evil sods who rent those nets to spammers and other virtual-creeps.

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Right now, even though they're a major annoyance and expense to just about everyone with a Net connection, these botnets seem to have been put in the "too hard" basket by authorities.

Tracking down and eliminating the hundreds of thousands (maybe millions) of machines infected with such malware is simply seen as not worth the hassle -- especially when it's possible to filter out 95% of the spam that they produce.

Even more especially when the cost of that filtering is borne by ISPs rather than law-enforcement organisations.

So, to date, governments have considered botnets to be someone else's problem.

However, if such a botnet is used by the world's most notorious terror group to successfully knock out the online presence of major US financial institutions, I think we'll see a dramatic change of perspective.

Just as they got all snotty about physical terrorism, I think you'd find that the USA (and therefore Australia and the UK as well) would suddenly become very focused on finding and cleaning-up all those compromised PCs. A pretty good price would also be placed on the heads of those who wrote the malware and created the botnets in the first place.

The great news for you and I is that this would leave the biggest spammers with no vehicle for delivering those billions of junk emails that are sent every year.

Oh the joy of it all!

I'm strongly opposed to terrorism of any kind (be it by fanatics such as al Qaeda or state-sanctioned such as that carried out those who purport to be on the other side of this war) -- but I can't help rooting just a little for the bad-guy if they're really planning to launch a DOS attack against the USA.

No loss of life would be involved and if it dealt a severe blow to spammers then one would have to say that every cloud has a silver lining -- right?

Will we have to wait for al Qaeda to hit the USA where it hurts most (in the wallet) before the authorities really start to take the problem of botnets seriously?

Have your say on this...

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