Islamist hackers busy blasting bank websites with network traffic have suspended their assault after a controversial anti-Muslim video ceased to be available through YouTube.
The Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Cyber Fighters crew launched a series of distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks in September and December, with the stated aim of protesting against extracts of the Innocence of Muslims film appearing on Google's video clip site.
The search giant restricted the availability of the video in some countries following a wave of protests across the Middle East. The footage did not actually violate YouTube policies so it remained available to most, prompting the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Cyber Fighters to launch packet-flooding attacks against Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Citibank and many other US banking organisations.
The assaults caused partial service disruption in some cases and may have spilled over to affect the website operations of European banks.
Earlier this month, US intelligence types told news reporters that the Iranian government was behind the "sophisticated" attacks.
But information security experts said the theory was unsubstantiated by any technical evidence and probably just hawkish sabre-rattling. The attacks involved hijacking thousands of compromised servers, rather than using a botnet of compromised home PCs, and generating huge volumes of traffic, reaching peaks of 75Gbps at times.
There's no need to introduce a nation state to explain this type of attack, a point explained in some detail by Robert Graham of Errata Security here.
'Clear indication of progress and establishment of logic'
In any case, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Cyber Fighters crew suspended its campaign on Tuesday. In a message on Pastebin, the group said the "main copy of the insulting movie was removed from YouTube" describing this as a "clear indication of progress and establishment of logic instead of obstinacy".
The hacktivists said that, in response, they were downing DDoS tools even though copies of the trailer for the film continue to be available from YouTube.
"All of them needed to be removed. Meanwhile, we will control the situation constantly and closely and will adopt the correct decision according to the future circumstances," the group said. "The suspension of Operation Ababil has started today and will continue till further notice."
It's unclear whether or not Google has actually done anything. It's quite possible that the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Cyber Fighters have decided to call a halt to their DDoS operations for some other reason and the group are trying to spin this as a victorious conclusion to a principled campaign.
From a Western perspective, there's no link between banks and online outlets such as YouTube. However cultural norms in the Middle East, where the state often controls media outlets and sometimes runs the banks, are very different, a factor that goes at least some way to explaining why Muslim activists would target financial institutions rather than the source of their displeasure. ®