Gaza propaganda war takes place online

Branded by some as "hacktivism", the conflict between Israel and Palestine has spilled onto the web, with activists from both sides defacing websites, taking over computers and shutting down Facebook groups, according to a report from the BBC yesterday.

A group of pro-Palestinian hackers defaced several high-profile websites on January 7th, including a US Army website and the NATO Parliamentary Assembly's website. The group, who call themselves "Agd_Scorp/Peace Crew" replaced pages with white space and a well-known photograph of a boy throwing stones at an Israeli tank in Gaza, and the Israeli, American and British flags with a red strike through them. Text underneath read, "Stop attacks u israel and usa ! you cursed nations ! one day muslims will clean the world from you!"

The hackers also hijacked the domains of an Israeli online news site, ynetnews.com, and the Israel Discount Bank, re-routing visitors to a page showing anti-Israel messages with photos of prisoners being abused at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Another approach was to set-up a website called "help-israel-win.com", asking visitors to download a file that was in fact a trojan that could allow someone remote access and control of the user's computer.

Pro-Palestinian and Israeli Arab websites have also been targeted in the past, with hackers defacing three websites last year, however, more recently Israeli activists have taken to hijacking groups on social networking site Facebook.

A group using the logo of the Jewish Internet Defence Force (JIDF) took control of several pro-Palestinian groups, removing content and replacing it with pro-Israeli statements.

One active user of a pro-Palestinian group on Facebook, Andrew Silvera, found his Facebook account "vanished" after responding to an invite for him to be an administrator of a similar group. "As soon as I pressed it, that was it, my account just vanished," said Silvera. "They kidnapped my account."

After witnessing a group he wanted to join being affected by an attack by the JIDF, Facebook user Francesco Paris started a group criticising their behaviour. Mr Paris has said that he has since received Facebook messages attempting to gather his login details, as well as "phishing" emails containing a link to a fake Facebook login page.

Speaking to a spokesman for the JIDF, BBC News were told that it is an advocacy group that fights anti-Semitism online and would not confirm whether the groups were shut down by people affiliated with the JIDF. The spokesmen for JIDF said, "We are not hackers. We are also not involved with phishing. We do not break the law for our work." The spokesperson blamed Facebook for failing to remove anti-Semite content. "Despite thousands of our members reporting offensive material, Facebook does not seem to act," he said.

Facebook said that they would not respond to specific incidents and that Facebook was aware of the phishing attacks. "We have noticed a couple of instances where a page or a group admin has had their account credentials phished. In such cases, we will reset the passwords on the users' accounts and they should have control again."

The spokesperson added, "We are just a platform and the discussions that are taking place online are also taking place offline. We are not taking sides."

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