France has been hit with a wave of cyber-attacks following the Charlie Hebdo killings, with many websites altered to show a message reading “The Islamic State Stay Inchallah. Free Palestine. Death To France. Death To Charlie.” Major media sites such as Le Parisien, L’Express, 20 Minutes, France Inter, and Mediapart were amongst the targets.
As many as 20,000 websites were targeted, including those of pizzerias and florists as well as the media outlets. Most were restored quickly. France’s head of cyber-defence Rear Admiral Arnaud Coustilliere told reporters that the attacks were carried out by “more or less structured” groups, including well know Islamist hacker groups.
“That’s never been seen before. It’s the first time that a country has been faced with such a large wave,” he said.
Web host Oxalide tweeted that it was having network problems early on Friday morning, but by 11am said that it had identified the problem, although it would not reveal what it was. The company told the BBC that it had ruled out an external distributed denial of service attack, in which sites are flooded with requests for access, causing them to crash.
Vice admiral Coustilliere said that he believed the first wave of attacks came in retaliation for the huge rally which took place in Paris last week. According to to Agence France-Presse (AFP), he said “people who do not adhere to a certain number of values” expressed on that march were to blame.
He also said that some of the websites targeted in the first wave included those of army regiments, and as a result, the Ministry of Defence “has decided to boost its security vigilance”.
Meanwhile the hactavist group Anonymous has vowed to wage war against the Islamic terrorists online. A Belgian branch of the group has launched #OpCharlieHebdo, releasing a video (now removed) addressed to “al-Qaida, Islamic State and other terrorists” in which they declare their intent to take down the websites and social media accounts of terrorists.
The French language message was also posted in text form to pastebin.com, addressed to “the enemies of freedom of expression”. The message expresses condolences to the families of those killed in the Paris attacks who “died for freedom”, and continues “It is clear that some people do not want, in a free world, this inviolable and sacred right to express in any way his opinions. Anonymous will never leave this right violated by obscurantism and mysticism. We will fight always and everywhere the enemies of freedom of expression.
“Freedom of expression and opinion is a non-negotiable thing to tackle it is to attack democracy. Expect a massive frontal reaction from us because the struggle for the defense of those freedoms is the foundation of our movement.
“We are legion. We will not forget. We do not forgive. Dread us!”