January 19, 2001, 12:00 AM

Sabotage Spreads to e-Retail Sites

With "denial of service" disruptions spreading to Web merchants, e-retailers are giving renewed attention to security. The targeted sites had taken precautionary steps to fend off such assaults but were unprepared for the magnitude, says Steve Hunt, director of information at Giga Information Group in Chicago. "The denial of service filters that were in place were disarmed by the attack," he explains. "No one anticipated this level of attack."

A day after a denial of service attack shut down Yahoo! for three hours, similar assaults occurred at several popular retail sites, suggesting a coordinated effort to disrupt Internet commerce. Sites plagued by the latest attacks included eBay, Amazon, Buy.com and ZDNet. All were disabled for a few hours after their systems were deluged by data requests sent by the saboteur, but they say the hackers did not gain access inside their computers or retrieve information about their customers. Online brokerage firms E*Trade and Datek were also affected.

Denials of service happen hundreds of times a day at large sites like Amazon but usually are manageable, says Hunt. Experts speculate that the vandals have broken into computer networks, planted software used to carry out the attacks, then covered their tracks. With the ambush set, the hackers signal the computers to barrage targeted servers with data requests, causing them to freeze up.

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