By HOWARD ALTMAN
haltman @ tampatrib.com
Feb 20, 2006
When Stacey Turmel placed an order online with Davida, an English
motorcycle accessory company, she was looking for protective gear with
style and comfort.
But after plunking down $255 for a two-tone Deluxe Jet helmet, she
found herself dragged into the shadowy world of global jihad.
Turmel, a St. Petersburg lawyer, has learned that she was among
several Davida customers whose personal and credit information was
placed on a public Web site - 3asfh.net. The site, hosted temporarily
by a Tampa-based Web-hosting company, has been used to exchange
information on hacking by people waging war in the name of Islam.
"It was scary to find out that jihadis had my personal information,"
Her loss was modest. After checking records in the spring of 2002, she
found several small charges she did not make - none more than $40, but
other victims discovered attempts to charge more than $1,000.
Investigators and Internet security experts say much more is at stake.
Computer hackers - from wayward teens to organized crime syndicates to
groups associated with al-Qaida - steal hundreds of billions of
dollars every year. Hack attacks such as the one against Turmel are a
key weapon of global jihad, experts say.
One example is the 2002 explosion that killed more than 200 people at
a nightclub in Bali, Indonesia. Computer security experts say Imam
Samudra, the man behind the attack, financed it through credit card
Turmel's experience tells the "central story" of jihadi hackers, said
Alan Paller, director of research at the SANS Institute, a
cybersecurity firm based near Washington that works with the National
Security Agency, financial institutions and governments around the
In a book Samudra wrote in jail, he "exhorts followers to 'learn to
hack,'" Paller said.
The book continues, "Not just because it makes more money in three to
six hours than a policeman makes in six months, because it is how we
can bring America and its cronies to its knees."
Like Turmel and other customers, Davida's owner, David Fiddaman, was
unaware of the jihadi activity.
Sellers and buyers need to be more vigilant, say those charged with
securing the Internet.
Realizing the scope of the problem, the U.S. government is scrambling
to catch up. The 2003 Information Operations Roadmap, a recently
declassified, 74-page Department of Defense report, outlines methods
for government agencies and military units - including Special
Operations Command in Tampa - to attack enemy computer networks and
deal with hacking attempts on U.S. systems.
The Slammer worm, an intrusive computer program introduced in 2003 by
unknown hackers, is an example of the Internet's vulnerability,
according to a 2004 World Bank report.
The report says, "Within 15 minutes after the Slammer was introduced,
27 million people in South Korea were left without cell phone or
Internet access, five of the Internet's 13 root servers crashed,
300,000 cables in Portugal went dark, Continental Airlines had to
cancel flights because it had no Internet access, the world's largest
telecommunications provider was shut off, and 911 service in Seattle"
The convenience of the Internet makes consumers prime targets, experts
"Because of the porous nature of security in commerce and finance, and
the prevalence of anonymity, it is very easy to siphon and steal
funds," said Tom Kellerman, former senior risk management specialist
for the World Bank and author of the 2004 report.
Kellerman rattles off statistics driving home his point: $400 billion
in losses around the world last year from cybercrime, nine out of 10
businesses affected, identity theft hitting 19.3 million people in the
A good chunk of that theft - though no one knows how much - is by
jihadi hackers, said Kellerman, who is chief knowledge officer and
co-founder of the cybersecurity firm Cybrith LLC.
Cybercrime is safer and easier than selling drugs, dealing in black
market diamonds or robbing banks, he said.
"In the underground and in chat rooms, these people are sharing
information," Kellerman said. "The Internet is the wild, wild West.
There is a community that shares tricks of the trade very freely."
The Internet is "almost like a giant arms bazaar," said Kellerman,
where users can download weapons to hack into financial institutions.
"In this unregulated and wide-open space, they are facilitating the
financing of terrorist acts," he said.
The government and business communities are aware of the problems, but
their solutions are lacking, Kellerman said.
"A lot of people don't realize that until we build better castles and
control cyberspace in a better fashion, we are not going to defeat
terrorists' financing," he said. "The lack of security contributes to
cybercrime, which contributes to terrorism. There is a direct link."
Kellerman's dour assessment is bad news for potential hacking victims.
So, too, is a January report from the Javelin Strategy and Research
firm, which concludes that although federal laws and credit card
companies have done a good job of protecting consumers for
out-of-pocket losses, it takes about 40 hours to clear up credit
problems after they are discovered.
"I don't think there is any question that we all lose when there is
fraudulent use of this information," said Gerri Detwiler, president of
the Sarasota-based Ultimate Credit Solutions Inc. "The new Harrison
Ford movie, 'Firewall,' about a guy whose identity is stolen by
thieves, will only add to the concern."
Cybercrime is the FBI's third priority, behind counterterrorism and
"The network of cyberhackers is extensive, and we are working with our
partners, international, state and local, every day," said FBI
spokeswoman Cathy Milhoan, who could not comment specifically about
problems faced by Turmel and other victims of 3asfh.
Echoing advice from credit experts, Turmel urged consumer caution.
"Look at your balances," she said. "Check those statements on a
monthly basis. If there is anything you don't recognize, you need to
follow up on it right away."
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