Hacking Attacks Jump 37 Percent
Only about 1 percent of the attacks so far this year have targeted federal and state government sites, according to the Internet Security Systems report.
Computer hacking attacks and other Internet security breaches grew at an alarming rate in the first quarter of this year, in part because of sentiments over the war in Iraq.
Atlanta-based Internet Security Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: ISSX) reported Monday that the number of hacking attacks increased by 37 percent from the fourth quarter of last year, the biggest quarterly spike the company has ever recorded. Over the past six months, the number of incidents rose by 84 percent.
Hundred of Web sites have been defaced by both antiwar and pro-war hackers, and at least nine viruses or "denial of service" attacks related to the war have cropped up in recent weeks, according to another security company, F-Secure Corp. Among them were a temporary defacement of the White House's Web site and an attempt to shut down British Prime Minister Tony Blair's official site.
Antiwar groups have claimed responsibility for some of the attacks, but pro-war hackers have been just as active. In the past two weeks, hackers defaced the site of the Green Party, which says President Bush should be indicted for war crimes, and that of Al-Jazeera, the Arab satellite television network.
"We've certainly noticed an increase in hacking the last few weeks ... that was attributable to Iraq war sentiments," said David Wray, spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security's Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection directorate.
Surprisingly few attacks, Wray added, have been directed at the federal government.
"We actually expected we would've been a more frequent target," he said.
Indeed, only about 1 percent of the attacks so far this year have targeted federal and state government sites, according to the Internet Security Systems report. About 35 percent targeted retail Web sites or servers, while almost 12 percent targeted financial services companies.
War sentiment aside, the recent rise in hacking attacks continues a trend that has tracked the growth of the Internet and big computer networks in general.
At the same time, Internet users have generally become more vigilant about reporting vulnerabilities and attacks in recent months, in part because of the federal government's warnings about cyberterrorism, said Pete Allor of Internet Security Systems.
"Whenever a heightened alert goes out, we get more reports," he said.
The growth in hacking is real, though, Allor said.
Hackers are constantly trying to best one another when it comes to the reach and ferocity of their attacks. Some of the most recent Internet attacks, such as the so-called Slammer worm, apparently were orchestrated by hackers who based their malicious code on vulnerabilities previously found by other hackers.
"Hopefully we'll get to the point where users will be more aware of what they need to do to be proactive, and software will be more secure when it comes out of the box," said Chad Dougherty, internet security analyst at the CERT Coordination Center, a computer security clearinghouse at Carnegie Mellon University.
"But for the near term, I don't see any reason to believe these trends won't continue," he said.
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