Hate mail is entering the cyber age with the emergence of a new type of ethnically driven computer attack that uses racially-targeted viruses.
In the past three years, viruses have been used to spread e-mail maligning specific minority groups and to erase files tied to a specific culture.
In one of the most significant attacks, hackers inundated the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee’s office on Connecticut Avenue with viruses and vicious e-mails.
“It was hateful rhetoric, maligning Arabs and Islam,” said Laila al-Qatami, communications director of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee.
The attack included spam and the sending of false committee e-mail accounts to listservs resulting in unwanted mailings to the committee’s system. Eventually, with the FBI’s help, the attack was stopped, al-Qatami said.
A new technique
Internet hate-mongering is nothing new, but minority-specific viruses may be cause for further alarm.
The most recent twist is a computer virus that targets ethnically identifiable files. A virus released in Romania erased specific music files popular among the country’s Gypsy minority, according to a story on www.silicon.com.
Viruses can be modified for new attacks said Brian Marcus, director of Internet Monitoring for the Anti-Defamation League, an organization which combats anti-Semitism.
“We’ve been tracking how extremists spread hate on computers,” Marcus said. “If someone does something to target one group, someone else will change it to target another group.”
Marcus noted that the recently released SoberQ virus, which spread anti-Semitic e-mails, had been modified by neo-Nazi groups. This virus didn’t specifically target Jewish people, but was spread through e-mail by using the victim computer’s address book to find new e-mails.
The Department of Justice is working with American and international agencies to fight cyber crime, said Jackie Lesh, spokeswoman for the Department of Justice. The problem is present but not yet prevalent, she said
“We’re looking for these abuses, misuses and violations of law,” Lesh said. “We’re going to investigate and prosecute accordingly.”
By Josh Eiserike
Special to The Examiner