December 26, 2000, 9:55 AM

Vandalism goes virtual

Hacking is hardly new on the Internet, but the magnitude of last month’s denial of service disruptions reached new proportions. The attacks disabled filters in place to weed out denial of service requests, which occur many times a day at large sites, says Steve Hunt, a director at Giga Information Group, Chicago. “It’s the equivalent of a company preparing for a snowstorm and getting hit by an earthquake.”

The attacks shut down several of the Internet’s top merchants for hours at a time, including Amazon, eBay and Buy.com. All were bombarded with a succession of well-coordinated denial of service attacks by individuals still being sought by federal investigators.

Denial of service attacks occur when bogus messages from hijacked computers bombard targeted servers. “Right now, there is no surefire defense,” U.S. Commerce Secretary William Daley told reporters at a national security summit convened shortly after the attacks.

Some observers weren’t surprised by the string of denial of service assaults. Cormac Foster, analyst at Jupiter Communications, says they’re relatively easy to mount because vandals never actually infiltrate the targeted systems. “Essentially, these attacks are a big brownout. No site is bullet-proof.”

Still, the attacks show that Web sites, need an alternate channel, like a toll-free number, for use during outages, says Foster. He predicted that the disruptions will fade as the novelty wears off for hackers. In addition, sites have managed to fend of subsequent attacks.

All sites affected say their systems were not infiltrated during the barrages, nor was information retrieved or compromised.

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