Hackers feed on bin Laden news, as experts warn of cyber retaliation

SMU Professor Seyom Brown, the John Goodwin Tower Distinguished Chair in International Politics and National Security, talks about the cyberthreats trigged by the death of Osama Bin Laden.

By William Jackson

Traffic to online news sites spiked late Sunday night at 4.1 million page views per minute, driven by the news of the death of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, according to content delivery company Akamai Technologies.

Hackers also are taking advantage of the attention generated by the story, researchers report.

A malicious link to a fake video has appeared on Facebook and the blog site of a man who apparently tweeted the bin Laden attack live has been found to be compromised with a malicious exploit kit, according to the security company Websense Security Labs. . .

The threat is not merely from criminal hackers, said national security expert Seyom Brown of the Tower Center at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

“Putting it in the larger campaign against al Qaeda, the decapitation of the terrorist movement comes at a time of its substantial decentralization and global dispersal; thus, the danger of further terrorist attacks is not necessarily suddenly reduced,” Brown said. “Great vigilance against retaliatory revenge attacks is especially needed over the next weeks and months.”

Those attacks could come in the form of a cyber assault, he said. “We should not fall into the trap of assuming that our defenses can overwhelm the offense. We have to understand that we are going to be vulnerable.”

Brown said that cyberattacks lend themselves to the kind of undeclared conflicts now taking place in the Middle East and North Africa, providing ways for a nation to effectively target infrastructure such as a command-and-control networks while minimizing civilian casualties. Those capabilities also could be used against the United States, he said.

“I think others will find it attractive,” he said. “It is going to be part of the ongoing security environment in the decades ahead.”

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