Al Qaeda apparent victim of cyberattack

Several extremist websites tied to al Qaeda remain offline almost two weeks after the sites were the apparent victims of a major cyberattack. 

Those sites, which play a key role in the terror group's propaganda efforts, were knocked offline 12 days ago by an unknown hacker or group of hackers, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

The relatively low level of technological sophistication used during the attacks all but rules out the United States as the culprit, according to the Monitor

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However, the attack comes as DOD is in the midst of drafting new rules of engagement for cyberwarfare. Pentagon officials have told lawmakers in recent weeks that U.S. cyberwarfare capabilities are still mainly focused on defensive, not offensive, operations. 

The more likely scenario is the attack was an operational test of some unknown country's burgeoning cyberwarfare capabilities. 

In 2010, Iran's secretive nuclear program was attacked by a computer virus, dubbed Stuxnet, implanted into software used by Tehran to run the program. 

It is widely assumed Israel launched the cyberattack, which reportedly set the nuclear program back by two years or more. Jerusalem has denied any involvement.

The attack against the al Qaeda sites could also have been carried out by an individual or group of individuals without ties to any nation.

Whoever the culprit, the attack has crippled the terror group's main avenue for broadcasting its brand of Islamic extremism. 

Despite the blackout, a number of the terror group's cells have remained active.

Members of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the group's cell based in Yemen, claimed responsibility for the murder of an American citizen working in the country. 

However, without access to their websites, the actions of AQAP and other cells — and the impact those actions have on the public — has been marginalized to a certain extent. 

If those sites were attacked by a country's military or intelligence organizations, that country could plant counterintelligence or fake propaganda on the sites and put them back on the Web, according to the Monitor

That country would also be able to monitor those who visit the sites even closer, since they would have more in-depth access to the websites' software.