UK & World News
Activists 'Plan To Hack Into GCHQ Website'
The online activist group Anonymous has said it plans to hack into the website of the Government's listening post GCHQ.
A message posted on twitter purportedly from one of many accounts associated with Anonymous read: "#Anonymous Next DDOS attack is on GCHQ.gov.uk Sat 14th April...WE MUST CONTINUE TO FIGHT."
The group, whose members and leadership are by definition unknown, claims to be protesting about proposals to tighten internet surveillance regulations.
Last Saturday, followers of the same organisation successfully shut down the website of the Home Office for a number of hours, this time in protest against the UK's extradition deal with the United States.
The attacks, known as Distributed Denial of Service Attacks (DDOS), flood a chosen website with 'hits'.
The target website is bombarded with requests for information, causing it to crash or slow down significantly. Participating in such attacks is considered illegal under the UK Computer Misuse Act.
GCHQ is the Government's Communications Headquarters based in Cheltenham. It is a highly secretive organisation which works closely with both the Security Service (MI5) and the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6).
No-one from the organisation was willing to speak to Sky News.
Instead they emailed a statement which said: "We are aware that DDOS attacks are reportedly planned against Government websites and GovCert UK has issued an advisory note to all Government Departments alerting them of the threat and providing guidance."
The spokesperson said that any disruption to its website would have no impact at all on the work of the organisation.
"Our website is merely our public face and is not business critical. It has no impact on our operational capability - so we have reasonable and proportionate precautions in place."
DDOS attacks can vary widely in their sophistication. At their most basic, they amount to no more than a large number of people all accessing a website at the same time.
If the number of people accessing the site exceeds the number of visits the site is designed to host at any particular point, it will crash.
More sophisticated DDOS attacks involve hackers remotely accessing people's computers without their knowledge. Using specialist software their computers can then be background-programmed to repeatedly access a target website - GCHQ's site for example.
At its most sophisticated, a process called 'pharming' can be used. Hackers remotely access individuals computers on a massive scale and install a malicious code which causes the computer access one website when the user thinks they are visiting another.
If hackers are able to access the DNS servers of Internet Service Providers which contain a yellow pages-type list of sites accessed by customers, they could, in theory intercept every customer's attempt to visit a particular website.
Traffic could then be directed to a site of the hackers' choosing thus enabling a potential DDOS attack on a massive scale.
Experts in cyber security, speaking to Sky News, believe that last week's attack on the Home Office website and the potential attack on the GCHQ website are not likely to be a sophisticated DDOS attack. The consensus is that the attacks amount to little more than mischief.
However, Professor Anthony Glees from the Centre of Security and Intelligence Studies at Buckingham University told Sky News the attacks are an embarrassment to the Government.
"If the hacktivists did succeed in taking down the GCHQ website tonight, it would be a major and serious embarrassment to the Government and to GCHQ in particular," he told Sky News.
Professor Glees added that although the Anonymous activity is, in his view, mischievous and will have no impact on national security, there is potential for much more serious breaches.
"If you can get into a website, then could you get into the servers behind the website and then into the individual computers?" he said.
He also expressed concern that bringing down official websites could disable a government's ability to deal with a crisis.
"At a critical time, you could disable the government's ability to respond to a crisis", he warned.