France faces large wave of cyberattacks since terror rampage

AN estimated 19,000 French websites were targeted by hackers, according to officials, following the three-day terror rampage by Islamic extremists in Paris that left 20 dead last week, including the gunmen.

With the nation on highly-security alert since the attacks, President Francois Hollande has been trying to calm France’s inflamed religious tensions. The events started after a satirical magazine was ambushed by two now-dead gunmen, who claimed affiliation with the Islamic terrorist group al-Qaeda in Yemen. The magazine, Charlie Hebdo, had been repeatedly criticized and threatened for its inflammatory caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.

A representative of al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen has also officially claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying in a video that the killings were “in vengeance for the prophet.”

Calling it an “unprecedented surge,” Adm. Arnaud Coustilliere, head of cyberdefense for the French military, said that about 19,000 French websites had faced cyberattacks in the recent days following the attack, some carried out by well-known Islamic hacker groups.

The relatively minor, denial-of-service attacks hit various French sites including military regiments and pizza shops; however none appeared to have caused serious damage, Coustilliere said.

“What’s new, what’s important, is that this is 19,000 sites—that’s never been seen before,” he added. “This is the first time a country has been faced with such a large wave of cyberattacks.”

According to the Internet threat-monitoring private company, Arbor Networks, France has been the target of 1,070 denial of service attacks in the past 24 hours alone. That’s about a quarter as many as the US, but the US hosts 30 times as many websites.

Military authorities are launching round-the-clock surveillance to protect the government sites still coming under attack.

Coustilliere called the attacks a “response to the massive demonstrations against terrorism” that drew at least 3.7 million people into the streets of Paris over the weekend. He pointed to “structured groups” that used tactics like posting symbols of jihadist groups on various companies’ websites.

The terror attacks in Paris occurred in an atmosphere of rising anti-Semitism in France, prompting scattered violence against Muslims and Muslim sites in an apparent backlash. Since the attacks, French justice officials have arrested dozens who glorified terrorism or made racist or anti-Semitic remarks.

France will be “merciless in the face of anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim acts, and unrelenting against those who defend and carry out terrorism, notably the jihadists who go to Iraq and Syria,” President Hollande vowed, adding that any acts would be “severely punished.”

He said that France’s vast Muslim population should be protected and respected, “just as they themselves should respect the nation” and its strictly secular values.

“In the face of terrorism, we are all united,” he said at the Institute of the Arab World in Paris, noting that Muslims are the main victims of Islamic extremist violence.

Over the weekend, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said “serious and very high risks remain” and warned the French not to let down their guard, declaring a new “war against terrorism.” He also called for new, stronger surveillance of imprisoned radicals, and told the French interior minister to propose further steps for national security.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, who was on his way to France on Thursday, Jan. 15 on business, also expressed his sympathy for the country in mourning, saying he wants to “share a big hug with Paris and express the affection of the American people for France and for our friends there who have been through a terrible time.”

(With reports from Associated Press)

(LA Weekend January 17-20, 2015 Sec. A pg.1)

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