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October 15, 2001
 
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A group of computer hackers called YIHAT, for Young Intelligent Hackers Against Terror, say they gained access to accounts at the Sudanese AlShamal Islamic Bank worth as much as $50 million. (ArtToday)
Hacking for the Cause
Group Claims Bank Hack Attacks;
Others Not So Sure

By Erik Olsen
ABCNEWS.com

Oct. 15 A group of self-proclaimed hackers led by a wealthy and flamboyant German businessman says it is taking a vigilante approach to the war on terrorism by bringing together hackers worldwide to track down terrorist finances and resources online.


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They claim to have 34 people in 10 countries who have hacked the computer systems of banks they say may be linked to accused terrorist Osama bin Laden. They also say they've shared information with the FBI.

But the FBI refuses to comment, the banks have not noted any disruption of their services, and other hackers say the team is really just a bunch of self-promoters.

Whether they've done any damage at all or whether they even exist they have touched off a debate online about the propriety of what the group's leader, Kim Schmitz, says it is trying to do.

YIHAT's Their Name

The group, which calls itself YIHAT, for Young Intelligent Hackers Against Terror, says that last week a team of U.K.-based members gained access to accounts at the Sudanese AlShamal Islamic Bank worth as much as $50 million belonging to bin Laden and the al Qaeda organization he heads. Schmitz said no harm was done to the accounts and said the group passed on the information to the FBI.

Tuesday, the group claimed to have hacked the Arab National Bank in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, but said that no information on suspected terrorists had been found. A hacker calling himself Splices told ABCNEWS.com that he gained access to the bank's records and "had access to anything we wanted: corporate profiles, stock deals, financial statements, customer bank accounts."

Splices provided ABCNEWS.com with copies of some of those files, which appeared to contain financial information associated with Arabic names, but could not be further verified as belonging to actual customers or even the bank.

When asked why he targeted the Arab National Bank, Splices replied, "It has been confirmed that terrorists had done banking there in the past. We don't just choose targets at random."

Splices would not say whether the names on any of the accounts appear on the recently released list of 22 terrorists most wanted by the FBI, but he did say the information he found had been turned over to U.S. law enforcement.

Neither bank is on a U.S. list of 27 groups whose assets have been frozen for alleged links to bin Laden.

An FBI spokesman refused to comment on whether it had received information from YIHAT, but did say the FBI would not condone efforts to acquire information related to terrorism that fall outside the law.

Attempts to reach AlShamal Islamic Bank's in Khartoum via phone and e-mail were unsuccessful. Its Web site contained no information on any hacks.

A spokesperson for the Arab National Bank said it was unaware of any computer intrusion.

Hacker-Turned-Businessman

The founder of YIHAT, Schmitz, is a 27-year-old former hacker turned high-tech tycoon who lives in Munich, Germany. He said he started the group as a result of receiving scores of leads from people around the world who responded to his posting of a $10 million reward for information leading to the capture of Osama bin Laden.

He says he intends to pay the reward largely from his personal fortune that is estimated to be about $200 million.

He also said the loss of two associates who worked in the World Trade Center affected him personally.

"We wanted to do something," Schmitz said. "The FBI is very busy working on their own leads. We decided to build a contact network that will be useful in the fight against terrorism."

The name YIHAT is meant to be a play on the Arabic term jihad, meaning holy war, Schmitz says. "If they're calling for a jihad against our modern civilization, then we want to do the same, to react with a fiber war against this holy war," he said.

The group's Web site, launched Sunday as the first U.S. and British attacks against Afghanistan were getting under way, can be found at kill.net, a name Schmitz says was chosen because it is easy to remember, and because "we are focused on killing the money sources of terrorist organizations."

Hacker sites on the Web brimmed with admiration and disgust for the professed hacks.

"This is just a sad attempt to get a bunch of hackers together and act stupid," one message said.

"I don't like the idea of a millionaire starting his own private war," said another.

Skepticism was strong enough, in fact, that the kill.net site was itself hacked Wednesday night by a hacker calling himself "Fluffi Bunni" who defaced the site by posting a picture of Osama bin Laden and a doctored version of YIHAT's logo that read "Young Idiotic HaxOrz and Terrorists."

FBI Warned of Potential Damage

Concerns about the potential damage caused by vigilante hacker groups has been widespread since the Sept. 11 attacks. The FBI issued warnings last month about the appearance of such groups, suggesting there might be "significant collateral damage" if they attack sites purported to be associated with Islamic or terrorist groups by causing damage across a server or network.

Commenting on the alleged attack on AlShamal Islamic Bank, David Endler, practice manager at iDefense, a security intelligence company said: "What legitimate customers, whose bank accounts were not related to terrorism, might have been compromised as well? No one knows."

Schmitz says that YIHAT has issued a set of rules he says will prevent the unlawful damage to information. "Our rules are very clear. We don't want any sort of manipulation of data. We're not trying to harm."

According to U.S. law, gaining unauthorized access to computerized financial systems is illegal. Hackers who are caught can be charged with a felony and, if convicted, sentenced to up to five years in prison.

 
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