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Hackers: Banks Owe $875 Million

The Exchange

A group of hackers who say they're behind denial of service attacks against American banks are arguing that the existence on the Internet of a movie insulting to Islam should cost the financial institutions roughly $875 million.

Computer hacking, cyber crime: Credit AP

The cyber offensive will only stop when the movie, "Innocence of Muslims," is completely removed from the web, the hackers say. The group, Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Cyber Fighters, published their demands on Pastebin, a text and code sharing site, on March 5 and followed with another post this week.

During what the group calls phase three of Operation Ababil, American banks should expect denial of service attacks on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Distributed denial of service attacks are carried out when hackers intentionally overload targeted servers with traffic. If they create more traffic than the servers can handle, they can bring down a website and make it inaccessible temporarily.

The hackers indicated that they would launch the bank attacks for several more weeks. Banking has been threatened by the group periodically for months, with the movie being indicated as the catalyst.

How did they arrive at the amount the banks should "pay," or at least see extracted from their business? By using a formula incorporating the total views of the movie and the number of likes or approvals it has on YouTube. The formula includes an offset for dislikes that lowers the total cost. Ultimately, the banks should pay $100 for each view or like, which, based on the hackers' calculation, means they owe or should lose $875.5 million -- the Cyber Fighters peg the cost at $30,000 per minute of denial of service attack time.

The group had apparently sent warnings in late February that they were preparing to resume their campaign if the movie wasn't eradicated. Specific banks weren't named by the hackers earlier this month, but the most recent communication says they're targeting nine firms, including JPMorgan Chase (JPM), Bank of America (BAC) and Citigroup (C). Reuters reported that some users were having trouble with JPMorgan Chase's consumer-banking site Tuesday because of a cyber attack, and Bloomberg also said a denial of service had affected Chase.com. Customer data weren't compromised, the Bloomberg article said, citing a spokesman. The website appears to be functioning normally for now.

"Innocence of Muslims" caused considerable controversy last fall because of its portrayal of Muslims and the reactions that followed. The attack in Libya on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, which left four Americans dead, put the movie in the public view after it was initially cited as being at least a factor in the violence. Whether and to what extent it was, or wasn't, remains polarizing for the right and left in the U.S.

Meanwhile in Washington, dealing with cyber crime appears to be taking on greater urgency. President Obama said ahead of a meeting on the topic Wednesday that computer threats are expanding. "What is absolutely true is that we have seen a steady ramping up of cyber security threats," he said in an interview with ABC.

Obama also said he was confident some of the break-ins were sponsored by governments while others were private criminals not working for a state. Earlier this week, the White House said China, which has denied being behind a series of recent high-profile infiltrations, must end hacking against U.S. targets and adhere to "acceptable norms" of the Internet.