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Death of the Internet greatly exaggerated

Russian antivirus expert says claims in the media of an "electronic jihad" were taken out of context.

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By Robert Lemos
Staff Writer, CNET News.com

Security experts downplayed media reports that an "electronic jihad" aimed at Israeli Web sites will start Thursday.

The reports came after the Russian news service RIA Novosti published comments made by Eugene Kaspersky, a noted antivirus researcher, saying that several Web sites had posted a call to arms for mass Web defacements to occur Aug. 26.

Security researchers stressed that calls for Internet attacks have become a staple of extremist sites and usually amount to little.

"There has been a lot of occasions of people saying, 'Hey, let's have a party and deface a lot of Web sites,' and not much has come from it," said Jose Nazario, worm and denial-of-service attack researcher for security company Arbor Networks.

According to Nazario, security researchers frequently see increased online activity when attack preparations have started. There are no indications that such preparations are happening now, Nazario said Wednesday. "We honestly haven't heard anything," he said. "There have been no precursors to a large-scale attack."

Kaspersky's own company played down the portrayal of the statements of its founder on Wednesday. Antivirus-software maker Kaspersky Labs said the reports focused on what was otherwise "brief comments made yesterday at a press conference which was dedicated to cybercrime and the problems of spam."

The antivirus researcher's rebuttal to the articles and criticism from security experts appeared on VirusList.com, a site owned by Kaspersky Labs.

"We don't know who is behind these statements" calling for attack, Kaspersky said in the statement on VirusList.com. He stressed that the trustworthiness of the digital call to arms could not be established. "It's not the first time the term 'electronic jihad' has been used. We've seen this before, with the focus being on sending racist e-mails, and defacing and hacking Israeli Web sites."

In November 2002, the Simon Wiesenthal Center said extremist Web sites that the group routinely monitored had made calls for an electronic jihad against Israeli Web sites. In the following weeks, however, little evidence appeared that anyone had heeded the call to arms. The Anti-Defamation League in December 2000.

A year ago, security experts warned that online vandals had called for others in the Internet underground to deface Web sites as part of a contest. That contest also fizzled. The Internet version of a school-yard tiff between Chinese and U.S. vandals did result in perhaps hundreds of mass defacements in 2001, prompting some security experts to call it the China-U.S. Cyberwar. Such attacks would likely not succeed as well today, as most major Web sites take security far more seriously.

"It is no more terrorism than defacing street signs," said Arbor's Nazario.

Other security experts agree but add that they will continue to monitor the situation.

"We all know that the risk to the Internet today is no different than any other day of the week," said Oliver Friedrichs, senior manager for security-software company Symantec. "Threats can surface in seconds and target critical infrastructure."

While Symantec will not raise its Internet threat level—as Kaspersky plans to do Thursday—the company will be on watch, said Friedrichs.

Security experts at the Internet Storm Center, which monitors network threats, found humor in the latest prediction of the Internet's demise.

In the latest news item on its Web site, the group stated: "The ISC would like to go out on a limb and predict that the Internet will not vaporize into a cloud of nothingness this Thursday, but if it does, it's been our pleasure to help stave off its inevitable annihilation this long."

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