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. Chris

    Gee I think maybe people are getting the clue. Thank goodness for Hackers!! Hackers cant stand it either their no different, if you put them to use. They will good and vital information alone.

    October 23, 2008 at 3:44 pm |
  2. nelson


    So we know they aren't up on their technology yet.

    October 23, 2008 at 3:43 pm |
  3. Tony

    I would just about imagine that the US Government already has hackers on the payroll and could very well be the ones hacking into the Al Qaeda sites. If this is the case, of course, you would never hear any details about it for obvious reasons.

    October 23, 2008 at 3:43 pm |
  4. Wil W

    Dan, Its a social engineering hack, not a technical one. Joker.com is probably not responsible for it. The hacker in question probably impersonated the owner of the account and asked that it be transfered to forward to joker.com. Its like changing the sign that point drivers to Albuquerque so that it points towards Mexico City instead of the original designation.

    October 23, 2008 at 3:42 pm |
  5. Tony the H@cKer

    Agree with most others here, this is not hacking. It's either an un-configured domain, a lapsed domain, or at best case in tech terms close to hacking a hijacked domain. Either way, it's not as easy to find a particular person based on them posting to websites as many people here think. I for one would love to actually hack bin laden and blow his computer up in his face if that was feasibly possible.

    October 23, 2008 at 3:39 pm |
  6. simran

    The only way the war is gonna end is if the U.S.A and other countries in the Region take a proper offensive. Its a fact that if full control of the fight was given to the INDIA, the war would be over in a second. The war tactics that the USA and other Countries are using is not working because its not a typical war. India has fought this war before and they know how to go in and deal with these people. You dont take prisoners and ship them off to Cuba for instance, you kill them. This war is gonna go on forever, the enemy is to strong for the USA and we are realize that now. In regards to the websites, they should all be kicked offline, no questions asked.

    October 23, 2008 at 3:38 pm |
  7. Chris

    You're all "Americans" right? You hate these terrorists, they bombed NYC (supposedly) they scare you enough to implant RF trackers in your bodies and allow your phone lines to to tapped. You do these things so that you can enjoy your rights to freedom of religion, freedom to carry arms, even the "basic human right" of free speech. Oh, wait, you seem against that from what I can tell from these postings. You people are hypocritical and depressing with your mixed messages and your conflicting views. Find away to get over these "terrorists" (they cannot be that scar, seriously) and remember what you stand for, freedom for ALL.


    October 23, 2008 at 3:37 pm |
  8. Andy

    I bet it is the Democrats trying to prevent an October surprise.

    October 23, 2008 at 3:33 pm |
  9. Mr. Owl

    Thank you Illumanati.

    October 23, 2008 at 3:32 pm |
  10. Romeo

    Big ouffff!! This would not put an end to war on terror! U.S Government, get your act right, stop spending time/money on nonsense and wipe off the dirt which still sets at Pakistan/Afghanistan border.

    October 23, 2008 at 3:26 pm |
  11. Daniel Sea

    Hacked or no, it's always good when they are off the grid, for whatever reason. New sites should now be monitored and reverse IP tools implemented....

    October 23, 2008 at 3:26 pm |
  12. Charlie Scott

    "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."

    Ifyou actually believe Osama is in a "cave" or a "hole". .. you are ignorant. He is well protected in a nice villa in Pakistan (probably NOT northern Pakistan either). Due to his coffers of cash, he most likely has better health care than any of us. Osama is doing just fine, trust me.

    October 23, 2008 at 3:25 pm |
  13. Ryan

    Idiots. You think that the NSA or any other government agency hasn't tried "Spam software or tracking software to get these guys?" Way to be brilliant, William Joseph Donavan.

    October 23, 2008 at 3:25 pm |
  14. Tony, Tennessee

    McCain's plan to capture bin Laden? Easy? Simple? Oh, yeah, turn the pitbull in lipstick loose talking about him. If he gets good satellitte recertion in that cave, I am sure listening to her will drive him out in the open. Who knows he may even give the order to his fellow lunatics to just shoot him. After all, she wants to be "in charge of the senate." Hey, if Palin is able to do this, is she eligible for the $25 million reward? Look Saks and Neiman Marcus!!!

    October 23, 2008 at 3:24 pm |
  15. JamesSteal

    It just goes to show how paranoid you actually are, Always whining about Al Qaeda, Should focus on your own economy..

    October 23, 2008 at 3:22 pm |
  16. Chut Pata

    If they are really Al-Qaeda websites, it would be easy for US agency to track them in seconds with their super computers. So really, these sites appears to be operated by agents of George W Bush, so that stupid America voters would be scared into voting him, and offer to kill and die for his oil interests in the Middle East.

    October 23, 2008 at 3:22 pm |
  17. Chris

    You people are missing the point. The article went from talking about hacking to domain hijacking and back to hacking, just with no explanations and poor transitions, but clearly both are being used. I say people should continue to employ whichever methods present themselves to keep these idiots from getting their crazy messages out.

    October 23, 2008 at 3:21 pm |
  18. Joel

    So naive all of you. Al Qaeda needs more access, so our data mining can be more effective. Then we can track these murdering sons of dogs(Koran states dogs are a dirty animal) back to their holes.

    October 23, 2008 at 3:20 pm |
  19. Pat

    I don't think the government should be determining what sites people are allowed to hack into.

    Depending who is running the country they may claim open season on liberal or conservitive websites next.

    Criminals should not get rewarded for their crimes.

    Next what would you like us to do? Pay the murderer who killed the drug dealer?

    October 23, 2008 at 3:19 pm |
  20. Johne

    ::Yawn:: ...this kind of stuff has been going on for years and years. Report on something relevant for once.

    October 23, 2008 at 3:19 pm |
  21. Kevin

    They prolly just need to upgrade their AOL package and they'll be secure...

    October 23, 2008 at 3:19 pm |
  22. Nahom

    hmmmmmmm, donuts, just don't let them know America Runs on Dunkin, then they might be able to stop us on our track . . . seriously though, al qaeda fights most of it battles on the stage of the media and we have to do better in countering there propaganda . . . I predict at the end we will win but in the mean time . . . hack on people , hack on . . .

    October 23, 2008 at 3:19 pm |
  23. krabb

    Imagine trying to get help from the Al Qaeda It department...

    October 23, 2008 at 3:18 pm |
  24. ethan

    I find this hilarious. Hack away!

    October 23, 2008 at 3:16 pm |
  25. Shane

    So, first and foremost, the switching of domain registration (as the site redirect would elude to) is vastly different from "hijacking" the website.

    However, I can't help but wonder if this is the act of individuals outside of Al-Ekhlaas or is it a strategic move by Al-Ekhlaas and other Al Queda sympathizing organizations? CNN is now reporting that there are plausible threats being reported that Al Queda may be planning another attack on the U.S. prior to the Election (and/or the Inauguration).

    Now I know that it may be far fetched, but what better way of being able to strategize another attack than by restricting communication with the outside world and temporarily suspending all websites? Just a thought guys.

    October 23, 2008 at 3:15 pm |
  26. Markko

    Gee, lets see... This could be soooo easy to track, where these sites originate, but funny no one does!!!! Maybe because it is more profitable to wage War then to Win it!!!!!!!! People watch ZEITGEIST the Movie, and open your eyes to everything around!!!! Also watch " Why We Fight" and then tell me why are Americans Dying over there!!!!

    October 23, 2008 at 3:13 pm |
  27. Jason

    I am not sure if this is news, seems like someone did not renew their domain name....

    October 23, 2008 at 3:12 pm |
  28. Hans

    I must say I can't believe how easily satisfied the general population of the US is. First you are told " We are looking for him and won't stop looking for him." Then you are told "We are using every resource to find him." "He is hard to locate, but we will find him." Now after how many years you actually think that its going to be a hacker that is going to find him.

    Please do me a favor and think about a few things for a second. First, has anyone ever heard of Google Earth. Does anyone know where those satellite pictures come from (And By the way, for about $400 a month, you to can use todays, not a picture from 10 years ago, satellite picture to see yourself picking your nose in your front yard). That picture comes form a GOVERNMENT satellite. This same government has every know kind of nite/restricted vision devices know to mankind (even sights that can see through object for heat fluctuations). And don't forget that miss that has a guidence system that can pinpoint a missile to hit your front door as you open it to go to work in the morning (and see your smiling face before it hits).

    Boy, I can't believe that you actually believe that they are looking for him. But what I find hardest of all to believe, is that you really think that with all the high-tech devices at the Governments disposal, that it would be a hacker that would find and bring Bin Laden to justice.

    Good luck on your next life, cause you lost this one...

    October 23, 2008 at 3:11 pm |
  29. Billy in Mobile

    I say keep hacking them and keep them from spreading their message of hate... and while you're at it, hack the christian websites here in the US.... STOP THE HATE!!!

    October 23, 2008 at 3:10 pm |
  30. F Thomas Crump

    Looks to me like they simply forgot to re-register their domain.

    October 23, 2008 at 3:09 pm |
  31. Matt Kazan

    Not that I agree with Al-Qaeda, but have any of you ever stopped to think about why Al-Qaeda do what that do? And hating "Freedom and liberty and democracy" is not the right answer. Not even close. I think Al-Qaeda is terrible, but you have to understand why they do what they do. Think about it, read about it. The more we come to understand one another, the closer we can all come to living in harmony and ending these silly partisan proxy-wars.

    October 23, 2008 at 3:07 pm |
  32. Michael

    Seems like they shold have left it up as a tool to track their activities.

    October 23, 2008 at 3:03 pm |
  33. Stoo

    I have no love for these people but type of hacking activity hurt us more than helps. It's no surprise why public views are often ignored by the govt and military. Why? Because sheeple are dumb and can't think outside of the box they live in.

    Hacking these enemy sites comes at a cost. Valuable intel might be gathered by monitoring those sites. If they get hacked and go down, then we lose that trail. Another example were people's big mouths and ego's fail to get processed through their brains.

    If you want to be a hero, go join the military and back your ego up with some action. Otherwise stay out of the way.

    October 23, 2008 at 3:00 pm |
  34. John M

    It appears that al Qaeda, Inc is suffering from the same security problems lots of corporations do. For people who are said to be out to destroy the West, they sure know how to use our technology. Could it be that they really need the West to grow their business of war?

    October 23, 2008 at 3:00 pm |
  35. GaneeshTheGreat

    Unfortunately, very few people who use a computer on the Internet realize what website "hacking" or conducting network reconnaissance actually conists of.

    A web server that hosts a website is not neccesarily located even in the same country as the authors of the site. A computers MAC addresss can be easily modified with software found on the web and Proxy servers and TOR servers can muddle things up even more.

    Identity theft is very often the fault of the victims themselves who are naive to social engineering tactics and do not know how to establish security on their computers.

    And ironic that it is the U.S. government itself (NSA) that is reading the email of American citizens and not legions of sinister Chinese or Russian hackers.

    October 23, 2008 at 2:58 pm |
  36. chris

    Come on give us all the names and let us have at it......

    October 23, 2008 at 2:57 pm |
  37. Phi

    For all the people wondering why we don't trace IP addresses and cary out assaults based on that, it is because A) IP addresses are easily faked (google onion servers like tor) and B) people posting to and hosting these sites are located all over the world, not just in Afghanistan/Iraq. Despite what many Americans seem to think, we do not have jurisdiction outside of our borders.

    October 23, 2008 at 2:57 pm |
  38. Negar

    we should ask mccain where osama is ,apparently as he mentioned in the debate he knows where he is!lolol
    i hate fundamentalists!They make the world worse and worse everyday....

    October 23, 2008 at 2:54 pm |
  39. Connie

    If you think the government DOES NOT know where Bin Laden is then you're sadly mistaken. How can we pinpoint locations of some things on earth (from space no less) and not others? Probably look for BinLaden to pop up sometime in January, let's say a day or two before the new President is sworn on. Just an observation!

    October 23, 2008 at 2:54 pm |
  40. Tom

    If the Bushies can intercept and read all the email and phone calls of everyone in the USA, coming and going, why can't they locate the messages of Alquida , locate the computer and bomb them into oblivion? They can only spy on us, not them???

    October 23, 2008 at 2:52 pm |
  41. Shane

    anonymous said:
    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!

    The major difference is that it's not a risk to OUR National Security. Someone coming and looking at a political persons information, could be a terrorist or stalker, and then we could end up with something far worse than 9/11. Think about it, would you care more if someone hacked YOUR email, or a neighbor down the street? I don't think you would care about the other person. That's the difference from the hacking of the Terrorists (neighbor) & the US (you).

    October 23, 2008 at 2:51 pm |
  42. Annie Kate

    Its almost poetic justice isn't it? The big bad terrorists get hacked on the web and can't safeguard their media outlets; some would term what the hackers do as computer terrorism. So now the shoe is on the other foot. Hopefully, the hackers will continue to bedevil them – this is one group that deserves to be hacked.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    October 23, 2008 at 2:49 pm |
  43. Big Bill from Brooklyn

    Who cares? Leave the terrorists in their caves to be tracked down by our soldiers and destroyed.

    October 23, 2008 at 2:48 pm |
  44. flossmore

    Good....hack the hell out of these lowlife pieces of crap...there's only one good kind of Islamist.....a dead one!

    October 23, 2008 at 2:48 pm |
  45. wally

    its really important that we know where they talk and listen in. we will only win against evil, if we are smart not emotional. by just "shutting down" the websites we lose a valuable source of information about their mindset at a specific point in time.

    October 23, 2008 at 2:45 pm |
  46. Harry Ballsack

    Or, just maybe they are too busy running from cave to cave to make any videos.

    October 23, 2008 at 2:44 pm |
  47. Morgan, from Whittier, CA

    LMAO!! I think I would have a blast hacking Bin Laden's site. Think of the possibilites; recepes, directions on knitting, best seller books.

    Personally, I applaud the hackers who go after those pigs! Death to Al Queida and all those radical pigs!!!

    October 23, 2008 at 2:42 pm |
  48. Jacobito

    joker.com is a domain registrar, i think they forgot to renew their registration.

    October 23, 2008 at 2:41 pm |
  49. Shawn

    I'm sure everyone can agree that al-Qaeda must be opposed where they meet us; but the internet is not the place to take the war. It is wrong to steal data from other people (though this article is about hacking domain names), regardless of their intentions.

    Fight for freedom for EVERYONE, not just a chosen few.

    October 23, 2008 at 2:40 pm |
  50. Sentori

    WoW! This is just wrong...how dare we the United States engage in such deceitful practices hacking into Bin Laden's email. What is this world coming to. We need the Democrats to protect Bin Laden against the evil repubs who might pass legislation allowing this sort of thing...shame on you repubs for trying to keep our country safe...shame, shame, shame on you. SO, do I sound enough like a liberal? Hope so...cause that is what you're going to get with a Dem in the WH and controlling congress. Heck, they might even give him a foreclosed house to help the market rebound...Anderson...good job at keeping them honest...putz!

    October 23, 2008 at 2:38 pm |
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