Copyright 1998 The
New York Times Company
New York Times
September 14, 1998, Monday, Late Edition - Final
SECTION: Section A; Page 18; Column 3; National Desk
LENGTH: 1034 words
Hacker Group Commandeers The
New York Times Web Site
By AMY HARMON
A group calling for the release of Kevin Mitnick, the imprisoned computer
criminal, commandeered The
New York Times site on the World Wide Web for several hours yesterday, forcing the
newspaper's electronic edition to shut down at a time when traffic was
particularly heavy because of the
release on Friday of the independent counsel's report over the Internet.
Instead of The Times's opening screen, some visitors to the site at
www.nytimes.com early yesterday saw a logo marked
"HFG" with images of nude women and a diatribe posted by the
hackers that included
attacks on The Times's past coverage of Mr. Mitnick, who has been in prison
since he was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in February 1995.
Officials of The Times's electronic media division shut down the site at 10:20
A.M. after the break-in was discovered. They did not
restore service until about 7:30 P.M. after taking steps to secure the site's
Joseph Valiquette, an F.B.I. spokesman, said the agency's computer crime squad
in New York had opened an investigation into the break-in.
Martin A. Nisenholtz, president of The
New York Times Electronic Media Company, said late yesterday that the company did not yet
how the hacker organization, which called itself HFG -- or Hacking for Girlies
-- had breached its security. But he speculated that the attack was timed to
coincide with the increased traffic to the site and to cyberspace in general in
the wake of electronic publication on Friday of the report to Congress by
Kenneth W. Starr, the independent
"This is a much more destructive weekend to be doing this than normal," Mr. Nisenholtz said.
"We were running 35 percent above normal on Saturday, and typically Sunday is
twice as big as Saturday." A typical Sunday would see about 150,000 visitors to the Times site.
The attack on the Times
site appears to be the first time that hackers have penetrated the Web site of
a major news organization. But computer security experts noted that attacks on
high-profile targets are by no means rare. Other targets have been sites
operated by the Pentagon, the Department of Justice, Coca-Cola, a Fox TV affiliate in Chicago, Germany's Free Democratic Party, and
President Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico.
The incident seemed to underscore the fragility of the global computer network
during a period when governments, corporations and individuals are increasingly
relying on it as a source of instant
news and information. Several large Internet service providers reported record
traffic volume over the weekend as people logged on to read the Starr report,
which Congress put on the Web before it was made available elsewhere.
Lance Hoffman, a computer science professor at
George Washington University and director of the nonprofit Cyberspace Policy
Institute in Washington, said it was fortunate that the attack was not more
"the material posted by the hackers is offensive, childish, threatening and
chilling," Mr. Hoffman said.
"It's a good example of why we have to bring
accountability to the Internet."
The approaching trial in January of Mr. Mitnick, a convicted computer criminal
who has been imprisoned since he was arrested on charges of parole violation
and several Federal felony counts in early 1995, also appears to have
galvanized some members of the computer underground. The group that took
over the Times site directed some of its comments at John Markoff, a reporter
for The Times who covered Mr. Mitnick's arrest. Earlier this year, Yahoo, the
biggest Internet search engine site, was hacked by a group proclaiming its
support for Mr. Mitnick. And
in July, the hacker magazine 2600 led a small protest outside the New York
offices of Miramax Films, which is producing a movie based on the book
"Takedown" (Hyperion, 1996) by Tsutomu Shimomura and Mr. Markoff, which details the
pursuit and capture of Mr. Mitnick.
trial date comes closer, we're going to be seeing a strengthened effort in
hacking Web sites to get the Kevin Mitnick name known," predicted John Vranesevich, founder of Antionline, a Web site at
www.antionline.com that tracks hacker activity. Members of the
group that claimed responsibility for attacking the Times site have for several
years been engaged in a war of words on the Internet with Carolyn P. Meinel, an
author who writes about the computer underground.
The counterfeit Web page posted on the Times site included
text that could be read only by examining the underlying computer code, which
revealed an attack on the writings of Ms. Meinel, author of
"The Happy Hacker" (American Eagle Publications, 1998). The group took issue with her comparing
computer break-ins to terrorism.
"If we find the time and effort to hack a
few pages, labeling us 'terrorists' will only further annoy us and provoke us," the group's text stated,
"since it is absurd to make such parallels between two disparate groups. The
real reason we put any blame on Carolyn Meinel is because of her obtuse
over-dramatizations of our
Ms. Meinel said in an interview yesterday that last month a group identifying
itself as HFG attacked the computers of Rt66, an Internet service provider in
Albuquerque, N.M., on which she has an account.
Mark Schmitz, Rt66's co-founder, said the
company was working with the F.B.I. and the local authorities to identify those
responsible for the attacks on his site, especially one in which several
customers' credit card numbers were stolen.
Ms. Meinel also said that she had been the victim of another attack by a group
she suspects may be linked to HFG, based on
on-line interactions she has had with a person who seems to be involved with
In that attack, made on several Internet users simultaneously, including Ms.
Meinel and Mr. Markoff, the attackers subscribed the victims to tens of
thousands of Internet mailing lists in an effort to disrupt their
electronic mail service.
Ms. Meinel said she was writing a second book, to be titled
"The Hacker Wars."
"These people are desperate for fame," she said.
"These are the kids who used to make stink bombs. Now they have the Internet."
LOAD-DATE: September 14, 1998
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