The conflict raging in Gaza between Israel and Palestine has spilled over to the Internet.
Since Saturday, thousands of Web pages have been defaced by hacking groups operating out of Morocco, Lebanon, Turkey and Iran, said Gary Warner, director of research in computer forensics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
The defacements have primarily affected small businesses and vanity Web pages hosted on Israel's .il Internet domain space. One such site was that of Israel's Galoz Electronics Ltd. On Wednesday, the hacked Web site read "RitualistaS GrouP Hacked your System!!! The world isn't insurance!!! For a better world."
Other attackers have placed more incendiary messages condemning the U.S. and Israel and adding graphic photographs of the violence. Warner said he has seen no evidence that any Israeli government site has been hit by these attacks, although they have been targeted.
On Saturday, Israel launched air strikes into Gaza in response to earlier rocket attacks from Hamas and other militant groups. The online attacks began soon thereafter, Warner said. "It really got serious on Sunday," he said. "All the stops got pulled out."
Since then, Warner estimates that about 10,000 Web pages have been hacked. Many of these intrusions have been documented on sites such as Arabic Mirror, which keeps track of hacked Web sites. Often these are mass defacements in which many pages hosted on the same server are hit.
The defacements are being carried out by loose-knit hacking groups that meet in several online forums to coordinate their attacks. One hacker, called Cold Z3ro, claims to have hacked nearly 5,000 Web pages, Warner said.
A Web defacement movement took off in the militant Muslim community in 2006, when hundreds of Danish Web sites were hacked after a Danish newspaper printed cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed. One group, which had about 70 members at the time of the Danish cartoon incident, now boasts more than 10,000 hackers, Warner said