Senate's torture report will provoke hacktivist reprisals

Former military cyber-warfare commander predicts revelations of CIA's brutality and duplicity will spark denial-of-service attacks, site defacements

The release Tuesday of the U.S. Senate's report that excoriated the Central Intelligence Agency for torturing suspected terrorists will result in retaliation by cyber-hacktivist groups, a security expert predicted today.

"I expect there will be some sort of retribution," said Tom Chapman, director of cyber operations at Edgewave, a San Diego-based security firm. A former U.S. Navy cyber-warfare commander, Chapman joined Edgewave in September and leads the company's threat intelligence unit.

"We'll see denial-of-service attacks, we'll see attempted hacks and we'll see site defacements," said Chapman. "This is something we'll be keeping an eye on."

Chapman was referring to the news from the U.S. Senate's Intelligence Committee, which released a 500-page summary of its years-long investigation into CIA interrogation practices in the aftermath of the September 2001 attacks against New York and Washington D.C. The report blasted the agency for torturing Al Qaeda suspects, not on moral grounds, but on practicalities: It concluded that the repeated torture of terrorist suspects produced little or no information of value.

The report also charged that the CIA lied to both Congress and the White House about what information it had gleaned from those interrogations.

Although Anonymous may be among the best-known hacktivist groups, collectives can easily coalesce around a cause. In the past, hacktivists have taken on U.S. banks, defended the brutal regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad by hijacking Microsoft's Twitter account, and embarrassed Western technology companies like Symantec by stealing source code.

Hacktivists' favored tactic is to launch crude denial-of-service attacks, often with the help of thousands of sympathizers, to overwhelm targeted websites so that they are inaccessible to the public. In 2012, for instance, Anonymous recruited thousands to conduct attacks in protest of the shuttering of the Megaupload file-sharing site.

The Senate's report can be downloaded from the committee's website (download 62GB PDF).

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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