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Industry Standard

Hillary gets hacked

by James Ledbetter
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July 22, 1999
Web posted at: 3:46 p.m. EDT (1946 GMT)

NEW YORK (IDG) -- Is someone sympathetic to New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani playing political tricks on Hillary Clinton's Web site?

That's the conclusion reached by some staffers working with Hillary Clinton's Senate exploratory committee.

On July 7, Hillary Clinton launched a Web site,, to promote her probable run for the open New York seat in the U.S. Senate. But a number of Web surfers have found the site impossible to reach, because their browsers go automatically to a rival site,, which is maintained by Friends of Giuliani. An expert in computer hacking, Jerry Irvine, said the likely cause is a partial "DNS poisoning" or "cache poisoning" hack, in which would-be site users are rerouted en masse to a different Web destination.

Drake Franklin, who works for a technology manufacturer based in San Jose, Calif., said that for several consecutive days he was unable to access the official Hillary Clinton site from the computer in his office. Even though he typed in the proper Web address for the official Clinton site, his browser consistently went to the rival site. "I checked with other people in the office, and they get linked to the real Hillary Clinton site, but my computer still seems trapped on the [] site," Franklin said. He got the same result no matter what browser he used.

Hockaday Donatelli Campaign Solutions, the firm that maintains the site, denied any involvement in hacking the rival site and said it was unaware of the maneuver until contacted by a reporter. "This is not a good thing," said Becky Donatelli, cochair of the Virginia-based consulting firm that has built Web sites for a large number of Republican candidates. "I would hate for this to happen to one of our clients."
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A source from Clinton's camp affirmed that the committee is aware of the glitch. At least three other users from other areas of the country have experienced the same unintended rerouting of their browsers, the Clinton source said, noting that no incidents have been reported in the last few days. The committee could not explain why or how the rerouting occurred.

The incident demonstrates that hacking has been added to the menu of dirty tricks available to political candidates, would-be candidates and their allies. Web-site hacking can be especially effective because it is hard to trace.

The activity is very likely against the law, said Irvine, director of media and public relations at Infrastructure Defense, a Virginia-based technology-security firm. "To divert individual computers, you would've had to have gotten root access, in order to change the DNS entry," he said. "They would almost have to have committed an illegal act." Irvine added that most such hacks are designed to spread throughout multiple networks, but that this one appears to have affected only one server. Still, that would be enough to divert hundreds of would-be visitors to, if the Internet happened to route them through the hacked server at a given moment.

The site came online in late March, and is marked "Paid for and Copyright 1999 Friends of Giuliani." It labels itself "a Web site dedicated to the notion that we should expect more from someone who aspires to the U.S. Senate. That the U.S. Senate is a place for proven leaders, not a proving ground." Although Giuliani has not declared himself a candidate for the Senate seat opened by the retirement of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, he is widely considered to be seeking the Republican nomination.

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