MAY 22, 2000 VOL. 155 NO. 20
School for Hackers
The Love Bug's Manila birthplace is just one of many Third World virus breeding grounds
By ADAM COHEN
Onel de Guzman's thesis proposal, titled "E-mail Password Sender Trojan,"
was rejected by Manila's AMA Computer College in February, the thesis
committee gave a distinctly nonscholarly reason. "This is illegal!" the
school's dean fumed. De Guzman wanted to write a program to "steal and
retrieve Internet accounts of the victim's computer," allowing people
to use those stolen log-ins to access the Internet free. The response
from a faculty member, scrawled in the margin of the page: "We do not
Pakistan The Pakistan Hackerz Club has been making regular runs against American and Indian Internet sites. Its cause: an India-free Kashmir. p.h.c.'s leader, operating under the nom de hack "Dr. Nuker," may be the most prolific hacker working today. Among the p.h.c.'s targets: websites of Lackland Air Force Base in Texas; the Karachi Stock Exchange; and the Department of Energy's Albuquerque, N.M., home page, on which the club left a "Save Kashmir" message.
Serbia Three days into the U.S. bombing of Kosovo, Serbian hackers saturated nato's website with "ping" bombardments, in which one computer repeatedly calls another, shutting down its connections to the outside world. At the same time, nato's mail system was flooded with virus-carrying messages from Belgrade. nato dodged the cyber-offensive by switching to faster access lines. But a year after the war's end, the Serbs are still at it. Last month 50 commercial websites--ranging from Britain's Manchester United soccer team to German sport-gear manufacturer Adidas--had their content replaced with an image of a Serbian double-headed eagle and the slogan "Kosovo is Serbia."
As tensions between Beijing and Taipei have grown, hackers on both sides
of the Taiwan Strait have been busy. Upset by Taiwanese President Lee
Teng-hui's assertions that the island is a sovereign state, Chinese programmers
unleashed viruses that tied up networks and displayed pro-Beijing messages.
The Taiwanese fired back with a virus that made a mainland website display
images of a popular Japanese cartoon character known as Hello Kitty. Other
countries have also been showing up on hacker watch lists. David Kennedy,
director of research services at watchdog icsa.net, singles out Singapore,
South Africa, Malaysia, Brazil, Argentina, Bulgaria and Poland as hotbeds
of hacking. But the industrialized nations are starting to fight back.
The Council of Europe has drawn up a treaty that would require nations
to pass computer-crime legislation and cooperate on enforcement. And the
high-tech crime subgroup of the G-8, which is meeting in Paris this week,
will hear from a Who's Who of tech experts about ways to battle international
virus propagation. Getting tough, however, has its risks. As Kennedy explains,
"People who are talented and imaginative take that as a challenge and
find ways to hack into sites." The fact is that Third World hacking has
political frisson. There's a satisfaction in outsmarting the developed
world's best computer minds--a high-tech, Jesse Jackson-style cry of "I
am somebody!" That certainly seems to be a widespread response in the
Philippines. De Guzman's fellow students at AMA expressed quiet pride
in his alleged international cybersabotage last week. The Manila Standard
saluted him as "The country's first world-class hacker." "Yes," the paper
exclaimed, "the Filipino can!"
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