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Experts cast doubt on hackers' competition

Security experts have downplayed the threat posed by an international hacking contest due to take place this weekend, saying that companies with properly protected sites have nothing to fear.

The Defacers Challenge awards points to malicious hackers who compromise an organisation's web server and defaces its web pages. Internet Security Systems warned the attacks would begin on Sunday and disrupt the internet.

Yesterday (Thursday), the contest's website - www.defacers-challenge.com - was offline. Its host, Affinity Internet of Fort Lauderdale, had taken down the site, citing violations of the terms of agreement as the reason.

Security experts said that large-scale disruption of the internet was unlikely.

"Most real hackers don't pay much attention to things like this," said Caleb Sima, chief technical officer of security company SPI Dynamics in Atlanta. "The kids who do participate are script kiddies who are already trying to scan and deface things anyway, without needing a special day for it."

Symantec Security Response senior manager Oliver Friedrichs said his company had not seen an increase in attack-related traffic on its DeepSight Alert global network of sensors.

"Compared with last week, it's not that different. Companies are always under attack."

If the attack does take place, the sites targeted will be ones that have little or no security, Sima warned. "I don't see any real names defaced - Macy's or Bank of America."

While the contest rules put a higher value on compromising less common operating systems such as Apple Macintosh's and IBM's Aix, winning is still based on hacking 6,000 websites in the shortest period of time. This puts a higher value on compromising web hosting servers containing hundreds or even thousands of separate domains, said Roberto Preatoni, also known as "Syss64738", the founder of Zone-h.org, a website tracking defacements.

"Why bother hitting multiple targets when you can win just hitting one web hosting company?" he said.

Preatoni added that Zone-h had noticed an 80% fall in notifications of new defacements over the past four or five days, which may indicate that hackers are saving up defacements for the contest.

Security companies yesterday issued alerts to their customers and advised firms to ensure their existing security measures are up to date and functioning properly. Friedrichs said administrators should make sure public-facing web servers and application servers are patched.

"This is not something you should do extra for," warned Sima. "You should have been doing this all along ... there's always somebody scanning you."

Paul Roberts writes for IDG News Service


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