MEDIA WATCH: Hackers attack Web sites, saturate media coverage

The three days of successive hacker attacks on leading Internet firms earlier this month prompted a national debate over the security of the Internet and e-commerce. In the aftermath of what The Boston Globe (February 10) termed ’arguably the biggest attack in the history of the Internet,’ media reports focused on the nature of the attacks, which left several sites inaccessible for a few hours or so. The Wall Street Journal (February 10) reported that ’the entire Web industry was gripped by fear of becoming the next target.’

The three days of successive hacker attacks on leading Internet firms earlier this month prompted a national debate over the security of the Internet and e-commerce. In the aftermath of what The Boston Globe (February 10) termed ’arguably the biggest attack in the history of the Internet,’ media reports focused on the nature of the attacks, which left several sites inaccessible for a few hours or so. The Wall Street Journal (February 10) reported that ’the entire Web industry was gripped by fear of becoming the next target.’

The three days of successive hacker attacks on leading Internet

firms earlier this month prompted a national debate over the security of

the Internet and e-commerce. In the aftermath of what The Boston Globe

(February 10) termed ’arguably the biggest attack in the history of the

Internet,’ media reports focused on the nature of the attacks, which

left several sites inaccessible for a few hours or so. The Wall Street

Journal (February 10) reported that ’the entire Web industry was gripped

by fear of becoming the next target.’



The Washington Post (February 10) described the victimized sites, which

included Yahoo!, eBay, CNN.com, Amazon, Buy.com and E-Trade, as a ’who’s

who of the new economy.’ While many sites were actually attacked, media

reports focused most on the question of Internet security as a whole,

rather than the security of individual Web sites, according to analysis

by CARMA International. Among the questions being asked was how the

United States could move toward an Internet economy when several of the

leading brand names on the Internet could be toppled with such apparent

ease.



A few publications concluded that if big-name Web sites could be brought

down, then the same could happen to any site.



Some media outlets discussed the financial implications of these

attacks.



The Associated Press (February 9) wrote, ’The growing anxiety about the

Internet’s vulnerability contributed to a broad sell-off on Wall

Street.’ For some, apparently it was one thing for hackers to disrupt a

search engine or a news site, but to interfere with access to consumers’

investment portfolios was another matter. An E-Trade client was quoted,

’I must say, for the first time, I really worried about the security of

my money. ... That’s hitting a little closer to home’ (Wall Street

Journal, February 10).



Another troubling aspect of the coverage were the frequent assessments

by security experts that the attacks could, and likely would, happen

again.



USA Today (February 9) quoted one expert as saying ’the attacks show

that all sites are 100% at risk.’



Other reports focused on how easy it is to enact such an attack. These

articles contrasted the difficult nature of programming a computer file

with the relative ease with which any teen prankster with a PC could

download a readily available file from the Internet and set this attack

in motion.



Because hundreds or even thousands of computers are unwittingly enlisted

in the attacks, the difficulty in finding the culprits caused several

experts to suggest the hackers were unlikely to ever be caught.



Coverage also highlighted the difference between what actually happened

and the ’traditional hacking’ of breaking into a computer system. In

this most recent case, the sites were bombarded with so many automated

requests for information and could not keep up, thereby becoming

inaccessible to legitimate requests. This new form of automated attack

that does not actually penetrate a site’s files or data was often

labeled a new level of attack.



The coverage indicated that while security of the Internet, and

consequently consumer confidence in e-commerce, are vulnerable to these

kinds of attacks, there is little that can be done to prevent them.





- Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International Media Watch can be

found at www.carma.com.



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