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August 28, 1996


Political Hackers Break Into Moscow Channel

By ROBERT E. CALEM
Moscow Channel Logo One or more intruders hacked their way into the Moscow Channel site on the World Wide Web this week, peppering its home page and section fronts with profanity and political messages of an anti-Russian, pro-Muslim nature.

Within the graffiti's text, which was heavily laden with profanities and misspellings, the intruders identified themselves as "Team Najis," and the break-in was traced to a computer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But the motivation for the attack remains nebulous; the owners of Moscow Channel insist that their site is apolitical.

"Why doesn't Russia takes it business out of Chechnya" before its forces are defeated "like they did in Afghanistan??" the intruders wrote on the Home page. On other pages they railed against Communism, capitalism, socialism and democracy as "Man Made Ideas and Systems" that are inherently flawed, and they labeled Vladimir Druk, one of Moscow Channel's founders, "a drunk and prostitute."



My friends died in Afghanistan. It's terrible even to think of it.

Vladimir Druk, Moscow Channel


Druk, a Jewish immigrant from Russia, compared the attack to a pogrom, an organized massacre of Jews that frequently occurred in Eastern Europe during the 19th and early 20th centuries. He added that it was strange that Moscow Channel should be a target for graffiti condemning Communism and the wars in Chechnya and Afghanistan because, "it's absolutely sure I'm against Communism."

"My friends died in Afghanistan," Druk said. "It's terrible even to think of it."

Alex Halberstadt, the other founder of Moscow Channel, was also incredulous about the accusations leveled by the intruders. The site, which opened last July, is not politically oriented, he said.

Halberstadt described it as an "online magazine devoted to Russian arts, politics and culture."

"We don't condone any political viewpoint," he said. "If anything, we take a critical approach, turn a critical eye towards the current Russian Government. We've disparaged both Chechnya and Zhirinovsky."

Referring to the intruders' tirade, he added, "We agree with their political message in a basic sense."

Druk was the first of the pair to notice the graffiti when he logged in to the site early Sunday morning, and he immediately contacted Moscow Channel's host, Octet Media in New York. By midday, after he had not received a response from Octet, Druk said, he contacted Halberstadt, who was the only partner with access to the password needed to fix the site.

Halberstadt said that he, too, then contacted Octet and took Moscow Channel off line while he awaited a reply. Octet finally responded late Sunday evening, and the site was fixed and restored to service at about 9 PM, Halberstadt said.

Octet Logo The fix was easy, said Ilya Ravich, managing director of Octet, because the service provider had backed up all the site's contents. It was merely a matter of restoring files, Ravich said.

Tracing the break-in was also easy, Ravich said, because "all transactions are logged." The intruders were tracked to a public workstation at the Department of Mathematics of MIT, he said.

Larry Nolan, systems manager at MIT's math department, confirmed that the intruders had passed through the workstation with an apparently stolen password.

"They didn't hack our site at all," Nolan said. Rather, Team Najis used the account of someone at MIT and "actually knew the password," which he described as one that wasn't easily cracked.

MIT tracked the intruders back to the partial domain name public.sister-ci, Nolan said. After that, he said, the university was unable to track them.



We've disparaged both Chechnya and Zhirinovsky.

Alex Halberstadt, Moscow Channel


At Octet Media, Ravich said, Team Najis did crack Halberstadt's password with "brute force," which allowed the intruder to circumvent what Ravich described as "several levels of security," including "password shadowing."

Since the break-in, Ravich said, Halberstadt's password has been improved, and security for Moscow Channel has been strengthened.

In addition to the slurs against Moscow Channel, its founders, Russia and Russians, the graffiti included a threat to The New York Times on the Web and a provocation aimed at the CyberTimes arts@large columnist, Matt Mirapaul, who had recently reviewed the site.

No explanation was given for the name Team Najis, but in Islam, Najis is defined as filth and is commonly used to describe foods that a devout Muslim is forbidden to consume.

The Moscow Channel has saved the hacked home page and posted it as a link from Feedback, its letters-to-the-editor section.


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