WASHINGTON – Real patriots don't hack. Uncle Sam says only he can do that.
The FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center warned Wednesday that growing tensions between the United States and Iraq could lead to an increase in global computer hacking activities on both sides.
"Regardless of the motivation, the NIPC reiterates such activity is illegal and punishable as a felony," the agency warns on its Web site. "The U.S. government does not condone so-called 'patriot hacking' on its behalf.
"Further, even 'patriotic hackers' can be fooled into launching attacks against their own interests by exploiting malicious code that purports to attack the other side when in fact it is designed to attack the interests of the side sending it," the agency said. "In this and other ways, 'patriotic hackers' risk becoming tools of their enemy."
The warning comes less than a week after administration officials confirmed that President Bush had signed a secret order allowing the government to develop guidelines under which the United States could launch cyber attacks against foreign computer systems.
The United States has never conducted a large-scale cyber attack, but officials said last month that the administration's unfolding cyber stategy will specify that the Defense Department can wage cyber warfare if the nation is attacked.
The NIPC warning doesn't address the government's role in such attacks, but it makes it clear that individual attacks on computer networks are illegal, regardless of the motivation. The agency specifically cited patriot hackers who target Iraq or its sympathizers, hackers opposed to war who target U.S. systems, and those who would use the crisis as a guise to further personal goals.
"As tensions arise, it is prudent to be aware of and prepare for this type of activity," the agency said.
NIPC said computer network administrators and computer users should take precautions to guard against cyber attacks while tensions between the United States and Iraq are high.