October 23rd, 2008
01:03 PM ET

bin Laden hacked?

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/01/12/art.horiz.joker.jpg caption="'Al-Ekhlass' A website where many of al Qaeda's jihadist messages are posted is offline, having been replaced with the domain joker.com."]

UPDATE FROM OCTAVIA: Thanks for the comments about the hacking vs. domain registration expiration. This is definitely a valid point. Our focus here is not to write a technical essay about hacking. It’s merely an attempt at showing how some people – we don’t know who – are fighting al Qaeda by attacking their websites. Al-Ekhlaas website has been down for months following years of operation. While today it redirects you to joker.com, tomorrow it might redirect you to another site. While we do not know who is hacking into the jihadi websites, there is no doubt they’re being hacked.

How do we know that?

On the jihadi sites that work, it is common practice to announce that “Site X has been downed by evil forces but we’re working on bringing it back up.” Or “Site Y was hacked but you can join us temporarily on this address.” To the dismay of the jihadist community and its supporters, the Al-Ekhlaas website has been downed/hacked/disabled – you choose the terminology that works for you. From the chatter about it, this doesn’t seem like this is a domain registration problem. Al-Ekhlaas has been on line uninterrupted for a long time. This is the first time it disappears abruptly and can’t get back on.

Octavia Nasr | BIO
CNN senior editor for Arab affairs

A hacking war is raging on Jihadi websites. Radical Islamist sites have been attacking and getting attacked for quite some time. The website hacking practice was common in 2001 and 2002... Following the 9/11 attacks when al Qaeda used only one website to communicate its messages to supporters and foes alike. That website was called alneda.com. It was getting constantly hacked... sometimes several hackings a day. After every hacking the site managed to resurface on the net until it disappeared from the scene in 2004 to be replaced by other websites - What started as one al Qaeda-linked site mushroomed into dozens which branched out into hundreds of supporting sites that serve as dissemination centers over the internet.

Two well-known al Qaeda-linked sites are Al-Hesbah and Al-Ekhlaas. Al-Hesbah is the oldest and requires a username and password to access it. Its membership was open to the public in 2004 but became restricted over the years. This site became known as the first venue for uploaded al Qaeda messages - from Osama bin Laden video messages to statements and claims of responsibilities for attacks carried out in Afghanistan, Iraq or even Europe. Al-Ekhlaas followed with a sleeker image, and more technical bells and whistles.

The hacking war works both ways.
There are documented cases of extremist groups hacking into local websites that disagree with their messages. One case that drew the attention of western media took place about a month ago when a Sunni group hacked into the site of Shiite Iraqi Cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. The group posted a Bill Maher clip making fun of an edict the cleric had made concerning a sexual subject. The group's claim was that the cleric and his edicts are bringing shame to Islam and giving a good reason for the west to laugh at the Islamic religion.

Shortly before September of 2008, al Qaeda watchers started speculating about the next al Qaeda message which they expected to be released around the 9/11 anniversary - a practice al Qaeda and its video arm, As-Sahab, have been consistent about. The message never came partly because those websites were hacked into and completely disabled at times.

Today Al-Ekhlaas is off line, having been replaced with the domain joker.com. Trying to go to their site, you get a message saying that "this domain was registered with Joker.com."

Al-Hesbah and a few other al Qaeda-linked sites remain in operation, not because they escaped hacking, but because they manage to resurrect themselves under different names and continue to post messages mainly from al Qaeda enthusiasts. So the drop in al Qaeda-released videos is evident, the lack of messages from al Qaeda leadership is obvious. What is not obvious is whether al Qaeda has decided to slow down production and release of videos or the hacking is so severe and pointed that it paralyzed the media activity of the terror group.

Filed under: 360° Radar • al Qaeda • Octavia Nasr • Osama bin Laden • T1 • TV • War on Terror
soundoff (148 Responses)
  1. Matt

    Interesting the posters with the attitude "why can't we get these guys?" The fact is we are, have been, and will continue to kill al Qaeda. And Bin Laden, how long will it take for folks to start to accept that he is dead? (and has been for quite a while.)

    October 23, 2008 at 2:36 pm |
  2. Mohamad

    Maybe joker.com hacked sarah palin's email...
    this article was a waste of my time

    October 23, 2008 at 2:33 pm |
  3. anon

    Jim – most websites are hosted on servers owned by a hosting service provider. Knowing the location of the web server will tell you nothing regarding their location if they aren't hosting it from their physical location.

    October 23, 2008 at 2:31 pm |
  4. +charlez

    Now if we could only "HACK" the terrorist's Bank Account's, look out baby I'm getting rich, Moo Hah Hah .

    October 23, 2008 at 2:29 pm |
  5. Erik

    That's not a hack, that's a domain name registrar landing page. Joker.com is not a hacker, it's a business, like Network Solutions or GoDaddy.com. What probably happened is Al-Ekhlaas didn't pay their bill, and their domain got registered by someone else. This happens thousands of times a day.

    This article is not news.

    October 23, 2008 at 2:27 pm |
  6. Craig

    So, how is Bin Laden being hacked? It's not him in particular.

    October 23, 2008 at 2:26 pm |
  7. Rod Forx

    Why doesn't the government just devote some computing power to DDoSing all of these sites as soon as they pop up? It's so simple and effective I have no idea why these sites even exist!

    October 23, 2008 at 2:23 pm |
  8. DKage

    A new weapon for a new war...

    October 23, 2008 at 2:23 pm |
  9. rick

    Why couldn't the CIA do this? or are they doing it?

    October 23, 2008 at 2:21 pm |
  10. Keith

    This is the way to disable al qaeda. Never mind an army of soldiers, just turn an army of computer nerds on them. Their global network would disintegrate.

    October 23, 2008 at 2:21 pm |
  11. Steve Wagnon

    I never thought id say this but God bless those hackers

    October 23, 2008 at 2:20 pm |
  12. Bob Kazak

    Judging by their traffic charts it looks like we can rule out the use of a botnet to ddos the site. Really, neither site gets that much traffic anyways. The better of two Al-Ekhlaas has an Alexa rank of 300k. It really isn't like that the site gets more than 200 unique visitors a day. If that is a well known site that isn't saying very much. The way these sites are reported on it as if they have Alexa ranks of 20k and 5 thousand unique visitors daily.

    Come on, if you made a blog about variants of cheese sandwiches and updated it daily. You would get more traffic than either of these websites.

    October 23, 2008 at 2:19 pm |
  13. Tim

    The democrats are all upset about his invasion of privacy.

    October 23, 2008 at 2:17 pm |
  14. Rebecca Seattle-ish, WA

    Cool! It goes both ways! I suddenly don't feel so back about Identity Theft... as long as it's not happening to me.

    October 23, 2008 at 2:16 pm |
  15. Bill

    I am at least glad that this shows that there are some Islamic people that are fighting the extremists also. However, I am still concerned that Muslims everywhere have not made enough of an effort to defend there religion against the extremists. The mainstream Muslim population and leaders should be the ones trying to delivery Bin Laden to us more than any military in the world and I do not see this happening.

    If you go into a mosque and try to learn about the Muslim religion you are terrified by there treatment of women and there seeming edict that there religion is the only religion that can exist on this earth. These ideas have to change or we need to do something until these ideas are erradicted from this earth.

    October 23, 2008 at 2:13 pm |
  16. Greg

    What idiot would be so stupid as to even try to access an al Qaeda website besides someone brainwashed enough to blow themselves up in the first place? Any sane individual would be too worried about the FBI or CIA to go to such a website... and when you say enthusiasts, are you talking potential terrorists, or the curious, knowledge-minded individuals researching the terrorist group?

    October 23, 2008 at 2:13 pm |
  17. Kelly, Victoria Canada

    This is terrific, but I don't think we're fighting them nearly at the capacity we could. There's plenty of "average joe" computer specialists in the West (USA & Canada) that could easily jump on the bandwagon to wage cyberwar against the terrorists. After all, they happily kill our brave men and women, work diligently to hack our systems and glorify all of it in the name of an extremist branch of Islam straight out of the Dark Ages.

    If these folks can do it from a laptop in a hovel somewhere in Afghanistan or Pakistan, why can't we do it from a modern home in North America? Our education system dwarfs theirs and our population on a whole is significantly better skilled. That's not even counting our best and brightest in our anti-cybercrime units and those of our allies.

    I say what's good for the goose is good for the gander. Shutting down their communications is vital to ultimately winning the war on terror.

    October 23, 2008 at 2:12 pm |
  18. Pat

    an excellent insightfull article

    October 23, 2008 at 2:09 pm |
  19. Christopher

    Well that was the most interesting thing I've read on your site today. What would be more interesting is to know how much the American government pays the Jolt swilling kids that do this for them.

    October 23, 2008 at 2:09 pm |
  20. Tim

    These guys surprise me. They reject everything of western making but have no problem using the technology we invented. Big hypocrites.
    I'm betting most 12 year olds with an internet connection can hack into their angry little websites. Don't be all jihadded up over western ways and then turn around and try to use them for your own looney cause.
    These people are all so angry. I guess we would be too with that much sand in our undershortz. Sounds like a good place for our intelligence agencies to start tracking these whack jobs down.

    October 23, 2008 at 2:08 pm |
  21. Ron R

    Religious extremism is a double edged sword.
    "You believe in things that you don't understand and you suffer"
    Stevie Wonder

    We aren't laughing at the Islamic religion, we respect religious freedom. We are laughing and crying at the clowns who think they know what is better for everbody. For a culture that gave us so much in antiquity, they have so little to offer now, only pain. Hopefully this segment of that wonderful society will implode and fall upon themselves.

    October 23, 2008 at 2:07 pm |
  22. Mike

    It is the responsibiliy of every freedom-loving, computer hacker to trash these sites wherever the appear!

    October 23, 2008 at 2:06 pm |
  23. Colin Molyneux

    Are they hacking the current financial war might be a good question.

    October 23, 2008 at 2:02 pm |
  24. Kumar

    Kumar here,

    First I like my new name, second I agree that all al Qaeda sites should be hacked into oblivion.

    Kumar out.

    October 23, 2008 at 2:00 pm |
  25. um

    Actually, looks like they forgot to re-register their domain.

    October 23, 2008 at 1:59 pm |
  26. Barbara Tighe

    What's the world coming to when the most dangerous terrorist organization in the world is treated with such disrespect? Given the history of this organization I'm sure when they find out who allowed this to happen "some heads will roll."

    October 23, 2008 at 1:59 pm |
  27. Eric

    Joker.com is the domain registrar of alekhlaas.org. Someone got the login information for the user who registered the domain and deconfigured the DNS settings – this was not a hack.

    Another possibility is that some governmental agency contacted joker and had the site delisted.

    October 23, 2008 at 1:58 pm |
  28. Franky, Chicago IL

    I know, with these high-tech, sophisticated and crazy computers, what can you not do? For crying out loud, you can even find out where a person send you a message with the IP address. Of course you gotta have the tools and software necessary to do it but overall, computers have improved. I'm not gonna lie but this is a form of Conservatism. Let's face it, a computer is a personal, reliability and responsibility thing. You have the will and so forth to what you can look at or not. I'm not gonna lie but I want my government to do a better job with this. When I first found out about how so many millions of credit cards were hacked, that's when I said that it went too far...

    But if those Terrorists think they can hide, they have no idea who thery're missing with. Well...except Robert E. Lee! LOL!!!

    October 23, 2008 at 1:58 pm |
  29. Kevin

    So much for hacking Osama bin Laden, how about try WACKING him?!

    October 23, 2008 at 1:56 pm |
  30. Joe the Moderate

    Have no fear, "my friends,".McCain says he "knows" exactly how to get bin Ladin. He just wants to wait until he's the next Pres. to tell us his plan. "Country First" .....NOT!!

    Obama/Biden '08

    October 23, 2008 at 1:56 pm |
  31. Jon

    Apparently, you're unaware of the difference between "domain hijacking" and a "hacked" website, so let me explain it for you:

    A domain hijacking occurs when a person or organization registers a domain name (in this case, the domain name al-ekhlaas.com) that doesn't currently belong to them. This can happen legitimately in situations where a domain registration expires and the "hijacker" registers it in his own name immediately afterwards. This requires a degree of ignorance on the part of the previous owner, but it's not illegal or even difficult to do.

    In some cases, ownership of a domain name is transferred before it expires, and without the consent of the previous owner, but this requires a great deal of effort and is generally done using illegal means (hacking an email account, for example, to pose as the legitimate owner).

    A "hacked" website is one that has been accessed illegaly by an unauthorized user, and is generally defaced or taken down in the process. This is nearly always illegal and is tantamount to theft or larceny.

    By confusing the terms, you're leaving your readers to believe that the very core of the website has been removed or destroyed, when in fact the website is likely very much intact. The only thing that has changed is the owner of the domain name, and the server to which that domain name is pointed.

    October 23, 2008 at 1:56 pm |
  32. John

    its about time hackers put thier skills to work for a good cause.

    October 23, 2008 at 1:56 pm |
  33. Marines

    Good job Jokes - we need to cut the means of communication for al Qaeda and the others.

    October 23, 2008 at 1:54 pm |
  34. Frank

    I'm glad someone is bringing the war to these pieces of crap. I wouldn't be surprised if goverments around the world aren't actively supporting these activities.

    Keep them from communicating as much as possible. It would be nice if they were using the IP addys of the fools to goto this site to go after them. Can't say it sounds like a bad idea to me.

    October 23, 2008 at 1:54 pm |
  35. Patrick of Ohio

    Hahaha, even on the internet they have to hide. Osama bin Laden will die wracked with disease in a hole somewhere in a crap part of the world fearful until the last moments, before his kidneys die and his own excrement kills him, that the US will swat him like a fly. He can't have too much longer to go, he may even be dead all ready, may his corpse fester and rot.

    October 23, 2008 at 1:53 pm |
  36. Shaun

    The US government should make a list of these websites & distribute it. Then givie out cash prizes to anyone who can disable these sites.

    October 23, 2008 at 1:52 pm |
  37. Adam

    It doesn't necessary look like it's been hacked. Maybe their domain registration expired and someone else swooped up and purchased it?

    October 23, 2008 at 1:52 pm |
  38. Thomas Agent

    Good!!! Everyone should hack the hell out of those worthless, al Qaeda slime balls!!!

    October 23, 2008 at 1:50 pm |
  39. Brandon

    Joker.com is just a domain registrar. You can go there to reserve whatever site names are available.

    What likely happened is someone noticed that the domain name was expired and re-registered it for themselves using joker.

    Hardly a hack and hardly perpetrated by joker.com.

    October 23, 2008 at 1:46 pm |
  40. Sam

    It wasn't hacked by Joker.com... Joker.com is a domain registrar. Pay attention.

    October 23, 2008 at 1:45 pm |
  41. Lena- Phoenix, AZ

    The U.S. Govt. should unite all those people that are hacking into our emails, computers, and cell phones here in the U.S, ( commiting identity theft). They can place a wanted ad, or a special job position, with a high reward or salary, for hackers that can get vital information against Al-Qaeda, . So that our hackers can be used for a good purpose-hacking into AL0Qaeda and getting Bin Laden's whereabouts-so that they can stop going after ordinary people's information.

    October 23, 2008 at 1:44 pm |
  42. Joanne, Syracuse, NY

    If hacking can be good for the USA, keep hacking.

    October 23, 2008 at 1:43 pm |
  43. Al T.

    Uh, just because it says it is registered to Joker.com does not mean it was hacked by people working at Joker.com.

    In fact, it doesn't even necessarily mean anyone "hacked it". Their domain name might have lapsed and it might have been purchased by someone else.

    Or, even more mundane, they might have changed their server settings and haven't got things set up correctly yet.

    This article shows a lot of lack of familiarity with the technical details and makes a lot of assumptions. Not very hard-hitting.

    October 23, 2008 at 1:43 pm |
  44. DeeJay

    A rare example where minimized internet security has turned into a relief, really!

    October 23, 2008 at 1:42 pm |
  45. anonymous

    I like how the public loves hackers when they are fighting evil such as this, and no charges are ever pressed, but if someone sees Sarah Palins email, or takes down a cult website.... you want to put them in jail....

    make up your mind!

    October 23, 2008 at 1:41 pm |
  46. Dan

    Hacked by Joker.com? I find it hard to fathom why a DOMAIN REGISTRAR would be going around 'hacking' anyone's web sites. Maybe they just haven't set up their web servers yet 😛

    October 23, 2008 at 1:40 pm |
  47. Good

    I say put our computer hackers in a room with free roam of the internet. Kick these guys off the web. Do not just hack their sites, these guys should start uploading spam software and tracking software so we can see were it is coming from.

    October 23, 2008 at 1:39 pm |
  48. Ken

    either that or they just forgot to renew the domain....

    October 23, 2008 at 1:37 pm |
  49. Jim

    If the Hackers can get into the sites shouldn't they also be able to write programs that will tell exactly where the computer of origin is located so we can drop a bomb & take the terrorists out ? We have spent Billions on technology & cannot get these guys

    October 23, 2008 at 1:31 pm |
  50. Cindy

    Who really cares! The less web-sites to carry al Qaeda's crap the better! I wish they would all get kicked off line!


    October 23, 2008 at 1:07 pm |
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