Six banks attacked in retaliation for an anti-Islam video

Six major American banks were hit in a wave of computer attacks last week, by a group claiming Middle Eastern ties, that caused Internet blackouts and delays in online banking.

Frustrated customers of Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, U.S. Bank, Wells Fargo and PNC, who could not get access to their accounts or pay bills online, were upset because the banks had not explained clearly what was going on.

A hacker group calling itself Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Cyber Fighters — a reference to Izz ad-Din al-Qassam, a Muslim holy man who fought against European forces and Jewish settlers in the Middle East in the 1920s and 1930s — took credit for the attacks in online posts.

The group said it had attacked the banks in retaliation for an anti-Islam video that mocks the Prophet Muhammad. It also pledged to continue to attack American credit and financial institutions daily, and possibly institutions in France, Israel and Britain, until the video is taken offline. The New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq were also targeted.

Last week, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said in an interview on C-Span that he believed Iran’s government had sponsored the attacks in retaliation for Western economic sanctions. The hacker group rejected that claim. In an online post, it said the attacks had not been sponsored by a country and that its members “strongly reject the American officials’ insidious attempts to deceive public opinion.”

Such attacks are fairly common and generally don’t compromise sensitive data or do any lasting damage. Still, they can be a huge headache for companies that rely on their websites to interact with customers.

The hackers maintained that they were retaliating for the online video. “Insult to the prophet is not acceptable, especially when it is the last Prophet Muhammad,” they wrote.