The loosely organized “hacktivist” group known as Anonymous trained its weapons on Egypt Wednesday, resulting in at least three official government websites being knocked offline.
Sites belonging to Egypt’s cabinet, the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology were inaccessible, most likely due to distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, as of 3 p.m. EST.
Members of Anonymous had begun to organize at attack on Egypt three days ago, according to the Web-hosting company Netcraft, but the effort picked up steam Tuesday as the authorities in Cairo blocked domestic Twitter access.
An image posted on Facebook urged interested individuals to join IRC chat rooms, where, Netcraft said, new recruits were being asked to download and install the Low-Orbit Ion Cannon (LOIC), software that makes DDoS attacks easy to stage.
Egypt saw the biggest protests in more than 30 years Tuesday as thousands of demonstrators inspired by the fall of the dictatorship in nearby Tunisia took to the streets. At least four people were reported killed in violence between police and protestors.
A DDoS attack floods a website’s servers with bogus requests for information, overwhelming the site to the point where it cannot respond to legitimate visitors. If an actual website hack resembles breaking and entering, then a DDoS attack is more like a blockade.
Previous targets of Anonymous-sponsored DDoS attacks have all somehow interfered with the free dissemination of information on the Internet, according to the group’s members.
Related story: Egypt may be blocking Twitter and Facebook
Targets of the attacks have included the governments of Tunisia and Zimbabwe, both of which sought to suppress embarrassing revelations contained in U.S. diplomatic cables exposed by WikiLeaks, and PayPal, MasterCard and Amazon, which deactivated financial and online-storage accounts belonging to WikiLeaks.
For anyone contemplating joining the Anonymous effort against Egypt, think twice: It’s illegal to mount a DDoS attack, even against a foreign government you don’t like; the LOIC leaves traces that authorities can track back to users; and the IRC chat room is hosted on an Internet space that some security experts believe is controlled by the Russian cybermafia.