Indiana paper's Web site vandalized

By: David Noack Online advertisement for car dealership hacked by computer hooligans

Federal authorities are investigating who hacked into the online automotive section of The Evansville (Ind.) Courier & Press and made derogatory comments about a car dealership. The cyber-intrusion was discovered Feb. 19, after the car dealership notified the newspaper.
The online automotive classified section, called FasTrak, went offline for about two hours, as the newspaper checked between 350 to 400 other advertisements. A print version of the classified ads was unaffected. Newspaper executives declined to name the dealership.
Vince Vawter, president of the Courier & Press, which is owned by the E.W. Scripps Co., called the Federal Bureau of Investigation to investigate. He declined to reveal the hacker's remarks or speculate on who did it.
"I consider it a criminal matter. They got into our system. We had password protection on it, but now we are changing the passwords," says Vawter.
One way to gain access to the database of automotive ads was through an Internet protocol called Telnet, where someone armed with the right username and password can infiltrate a computer server. Another method is via a Web page, where a user is asked for an identification and a password.
Computer security analysts point to the need for newspapers to better safeguard passwords and access to their systems. The FBI's regional office in Evansville could not be reached for comment.
David Kennedy, director of research at the International Computer Security Association, says the most typical form of newspaper hacking has been changing Web pages, not altering content.
He says a hacker getting into a newspaper and changing content raises issues of reliability and credibility.
"It's the first that I'm aware of where the content was unobtrusively altered, and this is by far the most insidious with respect to future implications," says Kennedy.
He doubts that newspapers, for the most part, are targeted by other newspapers.
"I suspect the more common scenario is a hacker scanning a range of Internet Protocol (IP) addresses using an automated tool. The results of that scan can reveal a vulnerable Web site at a specific IP address. Only when he investigates further does he realize the IP address is that of a newspaper," says Kennedy.
The editor of The Hacker News Network, who wanted to be identified as Space Rogue, says newspaper Web sites are probably being hacked more than is made public.
"I commend the Evansville Courier for coming forward and publicly admitting what happened. By doing so, however, they bring into question the validity of any story they publish. ? Typically, you only hear about the cracks where the main page of a site has been changed. If you change the main page, you can also change the contents of the page," says Rogue.
The Evansville incident is just the latest in a string of newspaper hacking episodes, the most notable of which was when The New York Times on the Web discovered last September that their front page had been replaced with one featuring nude women from a group calling itself "Hacking for Girliez."
In that case, the Times' Web site was down for about nine hours, while programmers struggled to gain control of the site from the hackers.
Hidden behind the Web page, the source code of Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) was rife with profanity and racial epithets aimed at John Markoff, a Times technology reporter, who has written extensively on imprisoned alleged computer hacker Kevin Mitnick. He also co-authored a book on Mitnick.
A couple of years earlier the Times' site fell victim to a mail bombing or denial of service attack.
And early last year, a 17-year-old was arrested and charged with hacking the Bozeman (Mont.) Daily Chronicle's computer system, destroying files, and creating a hacked Web page that included a moving skeletal hand.
The incident occurred on Jan. 12, as the newspaper was preparing to move to new offices, and caused about $2,000 in damage, mostly from a malicious program that erased files.
?(The Web-based FasTrack online automotive section of The Evansville Courier & Press was hacked by someone who targeted a local car dealership.) [Caption]
?(Editor & Publisher Web Site: http:www.mediainfo. com) [Caption]
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher February 27, 1999) [Caption]


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