DDoS hack attack targets Church of Scientology

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Updated Monday Jan. 28 at 10:16 a.m. EST

Disruptions against the Church of Scientology's official website continued today after a hacker group this week announced intentions to shut down the controversial organization.

“We shall proceed to expel you from the internet and systematically dismantle the Church of Scientology in its present form,” a YouTube video posted by the hacker group, “Anonymous,” said.

As of this Friday afternoon EST, the controversial church's official website could not be accessed. The site appeared to be operating normally by Monday.

Jose Nazario, senior security and software engineer for Arbor Networks, said today on his blog that since Saturday, researchers have detected 488 DDoS attacks against the church, with an average size of 15,000 packets per second.

Since Monday, the church has been hosted by Prolexic Technologies, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based provider of DDoS mitigation solutions, according to a Netcraft report. A representative from Prolexic confirmed today that the company was working with the church but declined to comment further.

Anonymous issued a statement Monday, announcing that it would attempt to bring down the church after the church tried to claim copyright infringement over the spread of edited clips from a 2004 promotional video featuring actor and well-known Scientologist Tom Cruise.

The approximately 10-minute video, set to the music of the “Mission: Impossible” soundtrack, features Cruise lauding the church. He said at one point: "Being a Scientologist, when you drive past an accident, it's not like anyone else; as you drive past, you know you have to do something about it, because you know you're the only one that can really help."

The hacker group, in its statement, also accused the church of filtering anti-Scientology comments made about the video, which was posted on YouTube and Digg, among other places.

“They attempted not only to subvert free speech, but to recklessly pervert justice to silence those who spoke against them,” one member of Anonymous said in the statement.

In its own YouTube video, Anonymous blasted the church for its “litigious nature” and for allegedly leading “campaigns of misinformation” and “suppression of dissent.”

Ken Pappas, security strategist at intrusion prevention systems provider Top Layer Networks, told SCMagazineUS.com today that the hacker group likely is using botnets in the takedown operation.

“There are circles out there where you could take ownership of the bot machines that are already owned and launch a simultaneous attack against [something] like the church from 50,000 PCs, all at the same time,” he said.

Anonymous also encouraged supporters to ping the site on their own.

“There are publicly available tools that individuals can download and launch attacks on their own,” Pappas said. “They're out there.”

Aside from encouraging internet disruptions, Anonymous also has urged members to make prank telephone calls to the church, organize protests, distribute anti-Scientology literature and deliver all-black faxes to waste ink.

The church, in a statement sent to SCMagazineUS.com, did not reference the DDoS attacks, but said the Cruise video - while containing pirated excerpts - has resulted in many people searching for information on the church.

"Those wishing to find out the Church of Scientology's views and to gain context of the video have the right to search official church websites if they so desire," the statement said.
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