For the first time since the year 2000 turnover, the Pentagon has put all military and defense agency network administrators on heightened alert for hackers until May 8, according to Defense Department sources.
The military is now at "INFOCON ALPHA," a cyber-version of the physical threat condition, warning that systems may come under attack, according to Lt. Cdr Peter Reif, a spokesman for the Navy's Fleet Information Warfare Center. Chinese and American hackers have warned of a hacking war between April 30 and May 8.
While it is difficult to conclusively pinpoint the origin of computer attacks, activity over the past week on Chinese Internet traffic, newsgroups and hacker websites suggest that Chinese programmers and amateurs are responsible, experts told United Press International.
"They are calling it several names including `The Sixth Network War of National Defense,' or `the 51 war,' meaning May first," said Jerry Freese, director of intelligence for Vigilinx, a digital security firm that claims to monitor more than 7,000 Web sites for security breaches.
``What's surprising is the level of organization we're seeing. This is not just a casual attack done on a whim. We believe that the government is tolerating this action," Freese said.
One former justice department official said that jurisdictional obstacles made it impossible for U.S. authorities to prosecute those guilty, and that asking the Chinese regime to help would not only be pointless if it is indeed behind the attacks, but also could help China justify stifling the use of the Internet by political dissidents.
Freese said that while all attacks might not be reported, as of 4 p.m. EDT 13 federal government sites, two state government sites, eight commercial and two educational sites had been hit.
United Press International's site was changed around 3:30 a.m. with the company's usual
home page featuring a logo, scrolling news and links to related sites
replaced with a fluttering Chinese flag and several lines of copy
in Chinese characters and English letters. The illiterate English part of the
message read: "The Great Chinese Nation Hooray!!!! USA Will Be With
Responsibility for the Accident Totally!!! Protest USA sell Weapon to
Taiwan, Break The World Peace!!! USA IS BITCH! I am From China - Peak."
American hackers swiftly responded by defacing 15 Web sites in China with ethnic jokes and calls for hackers to join the war, expected to last all week, wired.com reported.
Other altered sites included: the Departments of Labor, Energy, and Health and Human Services; whitehousehistory.org; sites involving U.S.-Japan relations and Taiwan sites. The altered sites generally contained
messages similar to that placed on the UPI page.
UPI Editor-in-Chief John O'Sullivan said: "No great harm seems to have
been done on this occasion. It was cyber-nuisance rather than cyber-terror.
But it was a warning bell that we all need to prepare better countermeasures
against a growing problem."
Last week, National Infrastructure Protection Center issued a warning
that Chinese interests might be hacking into Web sites in conjunction with May
Day celebrations today. Dozens of Web sites have been hacked in recent
weeks by Chinese supporters who replace the usual information with
anti-American slogans and pictures of the fighter pilot who collided with the U.S. surveillance plane.
Copyright 2001 by United Press International.
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