DOD bites back at hackers preying on its Web servers

The Pentagon launched an attack applet of its own this month to thwart a
denial-of-service attack against its DefenseLink Web site at http://www.defenselink.mil.


DefenseLink was one of three sites targeted on Sept. 7 by a group that calls itself the
Electronic Disturbance Theater. The group claimed to be acting in solidarity with
Zapatista rebels in the Mexican state of Chiapas to protest Defense Department funding of
the School of the Americas.


Other target Web sites belonged to Germany’s Frankfurt Stock Exchange and Mexican
President Ernesto Zedillo.


The theater group’s Web site referred to the attacks as a virtual sit-in. Visitors
to the group’s site received a hostile Java applet designed to keep reloading the
DefenseLink and other Web sites automatically as long as the the visitors’ browsers
were open.


Multiple simultaneous reload requests can overwhelm a server, but the attacks
apparently had little impact, DOD officials said.


“Our support staff certainly was aware of the planned attack,” Pentagon
spokeswoman Susan Hansen said. “They took preventive measures to thwart the attack so
that DefenseLink was available.”


Hansen would not specify the preventive measures, but the theater group reported, and a
DOD official confirmed, that the Pentagon aimed its own hostile applet back at the
attackers.


Browsers “got back a message saying the [theater group’s] server wasn’t
available,” Hansen said.


The Frankfurt exchange reported the reload requests had little or no impact on its
server, either.


The theater group has promised a second round of attacks, known as FloodNet, between
Sept. 16, Mexican Independence Day, and Oct. 12, Columbus Day.


Representatives of security software vendor Finjan Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif., said
the attacks marked the first time Java applets have been used in a political protest,
although the theater group has claimed participation in other virtual sit-ins against
Zedillo and President Clinton since April.


The group is a throwback to the 1960s guerrilla theater of the Yippies, who once hosted
an attempt to mentally levitate the Pentagon. The theater group’s Web site at http://www.nyu.edu/projects/wray/ecd.html
advocates electronic civil disobedience. Its attempted Pentagon attack was part of Swarm,
a project launched at the Ars Electronic Festival on InfoWar in Linz, Austria.


The group’s announced activities, in addition to the unspecified attacks planned
through mid-October, include radio protests against the Federal Communications Commission
on Oct. 4 and 5.


The Swarm attacks reportedly did not meet with much approval among hackers, who view
FloodNet as an abuse of network resources.  

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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