A Heyday for Hackers

SAN FRANCISCO (02/10/2000) - Guess Yahoo Inc. didn't make up its hack after all. Yesterday, four other major Web sites suffered similar denial-of-service attacks. Almost everyone in the media agreed that the person or group responsible for taking down Yahoo on Monday had probably perpetrated the new attacks, too. Buy.com, eBay, Amazon.com and CNN.com all fell victim Tuesday, leading to a rush of hand-wringing tech stories all saying, essentially, that if these sites are vulnerable, no one is safe.

That said, the press showed admirable restraint in covering the attacks. Most noted that a DOS hack works by flooding a target's server with data rather than breaking into a company's system, meaning that secure data wasn't compromised.

"While such attacks are an expensive form of vandalism, they do not threaten sensitive data like credit card numbers or other consumer information," reported the New York Times. Only CNET's Evan Hansen got carried away, calling the hacks "online terrorism," as if closing down a Web site for a few hours were the equivalent of bombing Oklahoma City.

Several outlets, such as MSNBC and CNET, focused on the various new tools used in the attacks. While everyone reported that the FBI was on the case, most seemed pessimistic about cops actually tracking the hackers down. Reuters quoted Scott Gordon, director of intrusion protection at Axent Technologies:

"The FBI may be able to do some back-tracking and coordination to find out who did this - [But] we're not going to get an answer in the very near future."

The Washington Post found analysts who speculated that the perps might bring themselves down by bragging to their friends - the cyber equivalent of that other perennial media favorite, the serial killer who taunts the cops.

Reporters Ariana Eunjung Cha and John Schwartz quoted Stuart McClure, computer security consultant and author of "Hacking Exposed": "The point is to prove to ... their buddies that they can do it." If that's true, then these crackers are certainly the big men on campus tonight.

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