- The Washington Times - Friday, June 15, 2001

PatriotNet, a Fairfax, Va., Internet service provider that experienced a three-hour system outage Wednesday morning, traced its problem to a computer hacker attack.
The company's network engineers originally thought the shutdown was the result of a hardware failure. But after six days of investigating the problem, they determined that it was an attack, PatriotNet President Bob de Lorenzi said yesterday.
"As far back as they were able to trace [the attack], it came from China," Mr. de Lorenzi said.
But he added that he did not know for sure where the attack initially came from.
"It was very, very scary," Mr. de Lorenzi said. "The hacker was able to make it look like purely innocent traffic."
The attack was a distributed denial of service (DDS) attack, which happens when hackers inundate networks with so much data that valid network users cannot get through. The 170 million data packets that flooded PatriotNet's Internet service provider within a three-hour period came from many different locations simultaneously, Mr. de Lorenzi said.
Mr. de Lorenzi on Tuesday filed a report with the FBI. The agency opened a preliminary inquiry, but no point of origin for the attack has yet been determined, federal law enforcement authorities said.
They said there was no information that the hacking was traced to China and noted that in most similar attacks the point of origin has been hidden.
In April, computer vandals from inside China staged a wave of coordinated attacks on Web sites of U.S. government and media organizations. The hackers posted messages earlier this month blaming the United States for the April 1 collision of an American spy plane and a Chinese jet.
Internet sites associated with the Department of Energy, the Navy and United Press International news service were vandalized.
Such attacks are very difficult to trace and the FBI can usually do nothing in the way of finding the culprits, said Nir Zuk, chief technology officer at OneSecure, a Colorado Internet security company.
"Usually the Web site will lose and the hackers will win," Mr. Zuk said. "If hackers are sloppy the FBI might be able to catch them, but usually they are not."
Chip Mesec, the vice president of marketing at Security Focus, in San Mateo, Calif., said his company is developing technology that will be able to alert subscribers to upcoming network attacks.
But Mr. Zuk dismissed the idea that any company would be able to predict an attack.
He said many companies have "gimmicks," but there is no way to prevent attacks.
Mr. de Lorenzi said his company has been around for seven years and although it may not be able to prevent attacks, from now on PatriotNet will know better how to deal with this kind of situation.
"You can't prevent an attack," Mr. de Lorenzi said. "You can only react to it. Once we see it happen there are measures we can take."

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