- The Washington Times - Monday, May 7, 2001

My little old home computer is under virulent attack from all over the world. I've been hit from China, from Japan, from Iceland (Iceland?), from AT&T;'s network and from BellSouth's.

Some background: Recent news headlines have indicated that now is a time for increased attacks on personal computers and corporate Web sites in the United States. On April 29, the Web site for the MCI Center complex in Washington was hacked, and remained off line as of midafternoon on April 30. United Press International (a wire service owned by NewsWorld Communications, which also owns The Washington Times), had its main Web site hacked on that same day by what that news agency called "interests of China."

According to Internet security firm VIGILINX, based in New York City, many of the attacks are related to tensions surrounding the collision between a U.S. EP-3E surveillance plane and a Chinese jet fighter on April 1. That incident resulted in the apparent death of Chinese pilot Wang Wei, and the emergency landing of the American plane on Hainan island. China released the 24-person U.S. crew after 11 days of captivity; at this writing, the plane remains in Chinese custody.

A statement from VIGILINX notes, "Chinese hackers have been defacing U.S. sites since the incident began, leaving phrases such as 'hack the USA' and 'For our pilot Wang!!! For our China!' on defaced sites. To date, several U.S. government sites have been attacked, including the Navy's Executive Office for Acquisition Related Business Systems.

Chinese hackers state that many other U.S. sites have been defaced, and claim that the Americans are just trying to 'save face' by not reporting the incidents."

I had imagined myself relatively immune from such attacks. A few months ago, I'd run the "ShieldsUP!" test from Gibson Research Corp., Laguna Hills, Calif., (grc.com) and it showed no signs of my PC being "visible" over the Internet, to which I'm connected via a cable modem.

But after a news release from Okena, a security software marker (www.okena.com) alerted me to the possibility of such attacks, I decided to install Zone Labs' ZoneAlarm software (www.zonelabs.com) as a "personal fire wall."

What this program does and it's free for personal use is to monitor incoming Internet attacks and block unauthorized users from accessing your computer. Such access can lead to Web site hacking (if you host your own site at home or the office) and your computer can be "spoofed" into acting as a mail server (to send out unsolicited e-mail known as "spam") or from which an attack on another Internet site could be started.

Within three hours of setting up the program, I had records of about four or five attempts to access my computer without authorization. When I want to go out to the Internet, with a Web browser, e-mail program or some other application, ZoneAlarm asks if I really want to do this, affording further protection.

It was ZoneAlarm that told me of these attempts. Last Monday, computers connected to Global Access Telecommunications Inc., in Frankfurt, Germany; Shaw Fiberlink in Calgary, Canada, and RealNetworks Inc., Seattle, wanted in to my computer. While I'm happy to accept content from RealNetworks, the software blocked my "friends" in Frankfurt and Calgary. Nothing personal, but I don't know these people.

Most disturbing was an effort to contact my computer using Transmission Control Protocol, or TCP, a communications protocol, from a system attached to a network operated by Beijing Information Highway Corp., No. 11 Xisan Huan Zhong Road, Beijing. Again, I don't know anyone there, and, yes, I got nervous.

Having a fire wall is a good protection; for now, ZoneAlarm seems to offer such. A new professional version, for business users, has just been released, priced at $39.95. Those with office computers linked to the Internet might want to investigate; information on both products is on the company's Web site.

• Write to Mark Kellner in care of The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; send e-mail to [email protected], or visit the writer's Web page, www.kellner2000.com. Talk back live to Mark every Thursday from 8 to 9 p.m., Eastern time, on www.adrenaline-radio.com.

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