A group of Arab hackers have threated to attack Western websites in retaliation for an anti-Islamic American film that has sparked outrage and violence across the Middle East.
One of the hackers, who identified himself as Ridouan, said in an email sent to the Al Arabiya News Channel that the group calling itself the Arab Electronic Army had hacked several Western sites and would target more.
In checking the nine sites listed by the group, CSO Online found Monday that five were either down or had messages praising the Prophet Muhammad. Two of the sites had a video in Arabic that appeared to talk about the teachings in the Koran. The URLs of seven of the sites had Brazilian country codes.
The group is part of the widespread anger over an online video called "Innocence of Muslims" that has brought protests across as many as 20 countries. The outrage stems from the film's denigration of the Prophet Muhammad, which is punishable by death in some Arab countries.
The latest hacking operation claimed to be part of a "campaign to defend Allah's prophet," Al Arabiya reports.
"The army was recently formed and we have started to work as a team after we used to work individually," the email said. The spokesman for the group identified the participants as Abdel Haq from Morocco, Saudi Hacker and Alaa and Khaled, both from Syria.
[Bill Brenner in Salted Hash: Security Wisdom Watch - Hacktivist all-stars edition]
"The hacking operations are of course a response to the offense against the prophet, peace and blessing be upon him," the spokesman said.
How much of a threat the group poses to U.S. companies is unclear. Cyber threats from the Middle East are growing. Over the last year, Iranian hackers have repeatedly attacked Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Citigroup, Reuters reported.
Most of the attacks have been denial of service campaigns that are believed to be in retaliation for Western economic sanctions against Iran.
The new group appears to be hactivists targeting Western sites as part of a religious cause. Such groups are worth monitoring, because hactivists will often announce attacks several weeks in advance.
"That's how they pull together a group of people who will attack a given target," said Rob Rachwald, director of security strategy at Imperva.
Arab hackers have shown signs of becoming more organized in promoting and launching campaigns, said Nimmy Reichenberg, vice president of business development for AlogSec. "Muslim hackers are doing a better job at joining forces and sharing information," he said.
The best corporate defense against hacktivists remains keeping business software and security technology up to date, as well as teaching employees not to open unknown attachments, security experts say. Web-facing applications that perform e-commerce and other types of transactions are a favorite of hackers.
"Put the best lock on the door that you can," Reichenberg said.
Hacktivists accounted for 3% of data breaches last year, but stole more than half the data, says Verizon's 2012 Data Breach Investigations Report. Organized crime groups were responsible for more than eight in 10 data breaches.