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August 18, 1996

Hacker Vandalizes Web Site
Of U.S. Justice Department

The New York Times / National News

WASHINGTON -- A computer hacker vandalized the Internet home page of the Department of Justice on Friday night, posting obscenities and anti-government graffiti, a department official said Saturday.

The Justice Department's site on the World Wide Web was shut down early Saturday after members of the public called to report that the site had been altered, apprarently by a hacker or hackers who posted nazi insignia, nude photographs and an attack on the Communications Decency Act. A department spokesman, Joe Krovisky, said that the site would remain off line while the department's technical experts assess its security.

Krovisky said that the system the hacker broke into was separate from the department's internal computer system, which contains highly sensitive information about criminal cases and investigations. "There's no way that the internal department information could have been affected" by a hacker who gained access to the information presented on the web site, he said. "That would have been impossible."

The hacker replaced information on the home page with obscenities, graffiti and anti-government statements, he said, but declined to give details.

The Associated Press reported that the site's title had been changed to "United States Department of Injustice," next to a red, black and white flag bearing a swastika. The text of the page was written over a background of gray swastikas, and at the top declared in red letters: "This page is in violation of the Communications Decency Act."

The page included color pictures of George Washington, Adolf Hitler, who is identified as the attorney general, and a topless Jennifer Aniston, one of the stars of NBC's "Friends," the Associated Press said. Other sexually explicit images were also shown.

Related Articles
CyberTimes Communications Decency Act Home Page
Complete coverage of the Communications Decency Act by reporters for CyberTimes and The New York Times.

The hacker or hackers involved used the majority of the web site to criticize the Communication Decency Act, signed in February, which makes transmitting sexually explicit material in ways children might see it a felony, punishable by up to two years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Two special panels of federal judges, one in Philadelphia and another in New York, have declared the act unconstitutional because it violates First Amendment rights of free expression. The United States Supreme Court is expected to combine those cases and schedule hearings on them later this year.

As the Internet's popularity and use have soared in recent years, so have concerns about computer security, both in Government and private systems. A report by the General Accounting Office earlier this year faulted the Pentagon's computer systems, which it said were increasingly vulnerable to attack by hackers. The Director of Central Intelligence, John Deutch, said in June that he planned to create a "cyberwar" center to protect the Government's computer networks.

Security for web sites, which are designed to be read and used by the public, is far less restrictive than the security systems that are used to protect typical corporate networks, let alone networks that carry highly sensitive information for financial institutions and government agencies. Krovisky said that the Justice Department's Web site was used to make public information like press releases and speeches available to the public.

The security systems that restrict access to private parts of the Internet are known as "firewalls." Web sites that allow for some interaction by users, such as downloading files, are more vulnerable than closed "intranet" systems, because in order to allow such interaction they have to poke holes known as "ports" in their own firewalls. For the most part, even these holes are heavily guarded and almost impossible to penetrate unless a hacker has some inside access, like the sign-on information and password of an employee who has legitimate access to the system.

Commercical web sites have been vandalized in the past, and the idea of a hacker gaining enough access to be able to a change a site's contents is "our worst nightmare," one official in charge of security for a privately run on-line information service said today.

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U.S. Justice Department Web site (The site was still down as of 11 am Sunday.)

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