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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Hackers list 'sites banned by Emirates'

The group Anonymous has wreaked havoc on the networks and websites of credit-card companies, banks and multinational companies.

DUBAI // A group of computer-hacking activists have published a list of sites they claim are censored by UAE internet providers.

Anonymous, the group of "hacktivists" who have targeted anti-software piracy organisations and critics of WikiLeaks, has published a list of 24,000 URLs and keywords blocked in the country.

The group has wreaked havoc on the networks and websites of credit-card companies, banks and multinational companies.

"UAE's internet is fully run and monitored by government-run ISPs," the group said. "We managed to get into the Netfilter server and are leaking this data we extracted from their [database]."

Most sites were related to adult content or insulting to Islam. Others provide internet telephony, allowing users to make cheap or free international calls.

The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority would not say whether the list was real or a hoax.

The group accused the country's telecoms carriers of unfairly penalising low-income workers in the Emirates.

The TRA regulates which sites should be blocked and provides a list to the country's two operators, Etisalat and du.

"This news does not relate to du and as such we are not in a position to comment on it," a spokesman for the company said. Etisalat officials did not comment.

A computer forensics investigator in Dubai, who declined to be named because he feared reprisals from Anonymous, said the group was not just a group of harmless teenagers.

"They are to be taken seriously, because they have such a large following," he said. "You have a lot of nerds behind them but you have some exceptionally talented people as well."

He said although the group had access to a list of blocked URLs, it did not necessarily mean the UAE's central proxy had been compromised.

Many companies that operate their own corporate proxy servers regularly send lists of inappropriate sites to Etisalat or du.

"This doesn't necessarily mean that anything has been compromised," the investigator said. "Just because they have been able to identify which websites are blocked, this isn't any amazing achievement."

Anonymous has hit other countries, such as Iran, which have a system of filtering internet sites.

The organisation claims to have about 10,000 members worldwide, and there is no clear hierarchy or leadership.

Because there is no central institution, there has been much confusion over the group's strategy and intent.

"Since anyone can claim to be Anonymous, many false flag and imposter attacks hide in the fog of this brand," said the US security analyst Josh Corman, who has written a series of articles entitled Building a Better Anonymous.

In June, Anonymous went for Indian online censorship, attacking the website of the state-owned Mahanagar Telephone Nigam in a "distributed denial of service" attack and spawning protest against the censorship.

And in January, reciprocal cyberattacks between Israeli and Arab hackers escalated, as an Israeli group released the details of 4,800 Arab credit-card holders and tried to launch attacks on the websites of the UAE Central Bank and the Arab Bank Palestine.

The leak of blocked websites in the UAE has been dubbed "Operation GodFather", but it is not clear whether the hackers intend any further attacks.

A source who maintains one of several Anonymous Facebook groups said there may be more UAE activities in future.

"I would imagine so, but there is never really a set plan," the source said.

mcroucher@thenational.ae