Al-Jazeera Web site suffers hits

The Web sites of Al-Jazeera have been taken offline, in what has been confirmed by the Arab media organization as a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack against the company’s Domain Name Servers (DNS).
Written by Ian Fried, Contributor and  Patrick Gray, Contributor
The Web sites of Al-Jazeera have been taken offline, in what has been confirmed by the Arab media organization as a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack against the company’s Domain Name Servers (DNS).

The Qatar-based agency, which operates an Arab-language site and launched an English-language Web site on Monday, provides a starkly different view on the war with Iraq than that offered by many Western media outlets.

According to a report on ABC Online, the English site was hit almost immediately by what they have termed "hacker attacks" and technical glitches.

The report quoted Al-Jazeera managing editor Joanne Tucker as saying "we've had a lot of obstacles thrown in our way".

"I thought the launch of this site would be quite smooth and wouldn't make make too many waves but the reaction has been amazing - it has been almost surreal."

ZDNet Australia was unable to reach the company's two Domain Name Servers (DNS) yesterday. Both machines were inaccessible.

Today, the Aljazeera.net domain points to different DNS servers that are owned by US based mydomain.com. However ZDNet Australia has found no "zone file" in their servers that contains IP information for Al-Jazeera. This may mean that the organization has simply "parked" the domain name there until they decide on a course of action, rather than mydomain.com refusing to host the company’s domain.

Providers will often refuse service to companies that are targeted by DDoS attacks because of the adverse affect on other customers. Mydomain.com were unavailable for comment at the time of writing.

Meanwhile, the companies that previously hosted Al-Jazeera’s DNS’s refused to comment on the attack. One of the companies, US based NavLink, even declined to comment on why their own Web site was offline yesterday.

Datapipe, who previously hosted Al-Jazeera’s secondary name server, refused to comment on the phone, insisting that all enquiries be directed to the legal department of the company. But the company has stayed silent despite attempts to have them answer ZDNet Australia’s questions.

Al-Jazeera’s IT manager, Salah AlSeddiqi, has stated publicly that he believes the attack is being carried out by an organization with "knowhow and money".

But others are pointing the finger at denial of service "bot" networks set up by malicious hackers. Johannes Ullrich, chief technical officer of the SANS Institute’s Internet Storm Centre, an Internet health monitoring organization, says that it’s most likely the case.

"That’s the typical thing that I would suspect. The Al-jazeera people seem to think it’s something more sinister, but with IRC bots you can easily get that much bandwidth together," he told ZDNet Australia.

Ullrich says that denial of service machines set up on cable user networks could pump out 300mbps of traffic, the figure claimed by Al-Jazeera.

"A thousand bots would do that... it’s not unusual to see 10,000 bots in these networks," he said.

The Aljazeera.net site, which is devoted to news on the conflict in Iraq, joins a chorus of voices emanating from the war zone, including individual Web logs as well as the many TV broadcasts, radio reports, newspaper dispatches and other media reports.

U.S. military leaders have criticised Iraq for showing videotapes of US prisoners and some have extended that criticism to Al Jazeera. "Needless to say, television networks that carry such pictures are, I would say, doing something that's unfortunate," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on Monday in an interview on CNN's Late Edition.

A Pentagon spokesman declined to comment on the site.

Although some are likely to value a contrasting voice, the site is sure to be controversial, with features including "Coalition of the willing has become a joke" and "Has Israeli lobby influenced this war?"

Among its dispatches on Monday was what it described as an eyewitness account of the assault on Baghdad.

"Baghdad witnessed intense bombardment" begins the unbylined report, attributed simply to Al-Jazeera. "Glass panes on windows and doors of the Al-Jazeera Satellite TV office were shattered as shock waves ripped through the city. We still can smell gunpowder and smoke here."

The report goes on to give details on an attack on the Al Salam palace, which Al-Jazeera said is used for hosting heads of state.

"We visited this palace along with the Iraqi Minister of Information and saw the damage," the report said. "It was completely empty and devoid of the alleged weapons of mass destruction."

The site also features a section devoted to "global reaction", which focuses entirely on opposition to the war, including various protests as well as antiwar sentiments expressed during Sunday's Academy Awards.

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