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Hobby Hackers, Part II

Hobby Hackers, Part II

As more news agencies and businesses in the region turn to the internet, Saudi Arabia is spawning a generation of hackers and pirate programmers, Part II

February 26, 2009 8:49 by

Click here to read Part I.

One Saudi-based surfer says she began hacking out of curiosity. “I just wanted to read more and understand what was going on outside of the region,” explains the hacker, known as Doctor Holiday. “Eventually [I] got to a point where I was hacking into servers and downloading files. However, I never did anything malicious.”

One of the few studies to address cybercrime randomly surveyed 10,000 Saudi-based Internet users. More than 500 were found to have attempted to hack government Web sites. Of those, two-thirds were Saudi nationals. The study, by Mohammed Alminshawi of the Naif Arab Academy for Security Sciences, also found that 3.5 percent of Saudi hackers and 1.8 percent of foreign hackers have tried to break into commercial Web sites.

Other reports paint a more alarming picture, claiming that 14.2 percent of Saudi Internet users hack into Saudi Web sites, as opposed to 8.9 percent of foreign users. The nation’s financial system has also been affected. While Dubai gained attention recently for a widely reported hack on the country’s ATM network, one Saudi hacker told Phrack magazine that credit card numbers for a bank operating in Saudi Arabia were listed on a German chat-styled Web page used by hackers worldwide.

The rise of hacking hasn’t gone unnoticed by businesses, particularly those involved in providing Internet-based services. Chat rooms in Saudi report that Internet service providers (ISPs) hire professional hackers to escape proxy servers in order to connect to banned Web sites and allow them anonymous Web access.

A team of Saudi hackers was the first to crack the security on the iPhone. Yusuf Omar, a network consultant in Jeddah in his 30s, and his team led efforts to provide Arabic-language support for iPhone users last year. But unlike Apple, Yusuf declined to use the term hacker to denote himself. “We are not hackers, we are developers,” Omar said, adding that his project also involves allowing the iPhone to use Unicode and Windows’ own language support for Arabic script.

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