Hackers have targeted about 19,000 French websites since a rampage by Islamic terrorists left 20 dead last week, a top French cyberdefense official said as the president tried to calm the nation's inflamed religious tensions.
France is on edge since the attacks, which began Jan. 7 at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. The paper, repeatedly threatened for its caricatures of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad, buried several of its slain staff members Thursday even as it reprinted another weekly issue with Muhammad on its cover.
Calling it an unprecedented surge, Adm. Arnaud Coustilliere, head of cyberdefense for the French military, said about 19,000 French websites faced cyberattacks in recent days, some carried out by Islamic hacker groups. The attacks, mostly relatively minor denial-of-service attacks, hit sites as varied as military regiments to pizza shops, but none appeared to have caused serious damage, he said. Military authorities launched round-the-clock surveillance to protect the government sites still coming under attack.
"What's new, what's important is that this is 19,000 sites — that's never been seen before," Coustilliere said. "This is the first time that a country has been faced with such a large wave." Among the groups suspected of launching the attacks, French officials named Middle East Cyber Army, or MECA; Fallaga Team; and Cyber Caliphate.
A private company that monitors Internet threats, over a recent period of 24 hours, France was the target of 1,070 denial-of-service attacks. That's about a quarter as many as the United States, but the U.S. hosts 30 times as many websites. Coustilliere called the attacks a response to the massive demonstrations against terrorism that drew 3.7 million people into the streets Sunday across France.
Two of the Paris terrorism attackers claimed allegiances to al-Qaeda in Yemen and a third to the Islamic State. French President Francois Hollande on Thursday insisted that any anti-Muslim or anti-Semitic acts must be "severely punished." He said France's millions of Muslims should be protected and respected, "just as they themselves should respect the nation" and its strictly secular values. It should be mentioned that earlier the "CyberCaliphate" hacking group attacked a Twitter account belonging to the Pentagon.