A hacker recently led a disturbingly successful attack against a U.S. military web server, that took security services completely by surprise. Russ Cooper, of TruSecure, says, “We believe the military was being targeted.” The timing of the attack suggests it may be connected to the war in Iraq. Cooper says a cryptic message left on the attacked computer read, “Welcome to the Unicorn beachhead.” Meanwhile, the Arabic satellite television channel Al Jazeera, which broadcast the heart rending video of the U.S. soldiers captured by Iraqi forces, as well as corpses of U.S. soldiers, says computer hackers have crashed its website, which also carried the images.

One way hackers bring down a website is to send it an avalanche of requests from multiple locations, which is called a distributed denial of service (DDOS) attack. Computer security expert Phil Huggins thinks the Arab site wasn’t hacked, but was simply overwhelmed by visitors who wanted to see the images of U.S. soldiers. Hackers are also getting into websites and leaving pro-or anti-war messages. “At the moment we are tracking over a thousand such defacements, most with anti-war messages,” says Jason Holloway, of security company F-Secure. “I have never seen that level of political ‘hactivism’ before, nor so many defacements in such a short time.”

Who are these hackers and virus creators who make the lives of computer users so miserable? Jan Hruska, of Sophos Plc, an anti-virus provider, says, “(The virus creators) have a chronic lack of girlfriends, are usually socially inadequate and are drawn compulsively to write self-replicating codes. It’s a form of digital graffiti to them.”

About 1,000 viruses are created every month. “So far, we’ve seen no indication of decreased interest in virus writing,” Hruska says. “Virus writers are constantly looking for new vectors of infection.? In January, Welsh virus writer and web designer Simon Vallor, age 22, was sentenced to two years in jail for writing three mass-mailing computer viruses that infected more than 27,000 computers in 42 countries.

It’s clear these bored adolescents need something useful to do.

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