- The Washington Times - Friday, February 11, 2000

The Justice Department Thursday said a "substantial" nationwide probe is under way to identify the vandals who disabled several popular Web sites, but it remains unclear who was involved or why.
Deputy Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said at the department's weekly press briefing that investigators consider the attack a "very serious matter," but, "I can't honestly say that we have a sense of what the motive is."
Meanwhile, the Defense Department Thursday ordered a check of more than 7,600 U.S. military computer systems to determine if any were targeted as part of the vandalism wave.
Rear Adm. Craig Quigley, a Pentagon spokesman, noted that the check was only precautionary, adding that the department had not uncovered any evidence to suggest that outside attackers had planted orders in any defense computers to assault Web sites.
The military is the U.S. government's biggest user of computers, which recently had a $3.6 billion upgrade to avoid year-2000 problems.
"The check is to see to the best of our ability that our own systems are not being used unwittingly to assist in attacking other systems," he said at a Pentagon briefing. "Our folks decided it was the right thing to do given the scope of the Defense Department's investment in computers and networks."
Also, several large Internet companies Thursday sought to strengthen their computer systems by stepping up training sessions and installing advanced software filters to block delivery of suspicious electronic data.
No major new outages were reported Thursday, and the companies took advantage of the lull.
In addition, President Clinton said Thursday he will meet next week with the nation's top computer security experts and technology executives to discuss the attacks and the president's budget proposal for $2.03 billion to protect the country's most important computer systems.
The White House meeting also will include National Security Adviser Samuel R. Berger and the president's chief of staff, John Podesta.
The Justice Department probe, ordered Wednesday by Attorney General Janet Reno, involves U.S. attorney's offices around the country, along with dozens of specially trained prosecutors working with the department's computer crime section, all of whom have the "authority and expertise in obtaining court orders for electronic and other forms of evidence."
Mr. Holder, in describing the attacks as "very serious," said "dozens or even hundreds of computers" may have been used against the Internet sites, adding that the number of victims was "substantial" and the "collective loss and cost to respond to these kinds of attacks can run into the tens of millions of dollars or more."
But he told reporters it was "too early" to tell how many computer hackers were involved in the attacks on the Web sites, which included ZDNet, E-Trade, Datek Online Brokerage Services, Yahoo Inc., E-Bay Inc., Amazon.com Inc., Buy.com Inc. and CNN.com.
"We don't know at this point whether we're looking at one source or more than one no indication at this point that we are looking at anything that comes from outside the country, though there have been previous attacks, similar attacks that have been launched from outside the country," he said.
Mr. Holder also noted that investigators believe that based on how "these attacks generally are launched," a substantial number of computers might have been necessary for the attacks.
"It doesn't mean, on the other hand, that this particular kind of hacking is particularly sophisticated … you do not have to have a great amount of computer expertise or very sophisticated equipment in order to do this kind of attack," he said.
Although Mr. Holder said investigators have not yet discovered a motive for the attacks, the perpetrators had engaged in a criminal act that could result in a five-year prison sentence and fines of at least $250,000 or more.
"These are people who are criminals, and we will do all that we can to find them, to prosecute them, and to put them in jail," he said. "We don't consider this to be a prank; these are very serious matters."
The raid began earlier this week with an attack on Yahoo, the largest independent Web site, and later spread to leading retailers.
Ron Rick, the FBI's top computer investigator, said Wednesday the attacks could have been the work of anyone, from a foreign spy to a 15-year-old using easy-to-find computer "hacking" programs.
The attacks center on a "denial of service" by hackers who penetrate network security and hijack the site's computing power to overwhelm the sites with "page" requests so that would-be users get a cyber-busy signal.

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