ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Impact of Cyber Vandalism on the Internet

The series of crippling cyber attacks in the second week of February not only forced the closure of a number of important web sites for hours, but also made a serious dent in customer confidence in internet based e-commerce. Can a voluntary, industry-led programme keep the internet open, free and secure without help from governments round the world?

The second week of February saw a series of crippling cyber attacks on a number of prominent internet companies. On Monday, February 7, the International Herald Tribune carried an article titled ‘Storing Secrets on a Home Computer Is Like Telling Hackers, Help Yourself’ and side by side another article titled ‘Free Services on Web Can Assess and Fortify Computer’s Defences’. Ironically, the same day Yahoo, the busiest web site of the world and also one of the most sophisticated and well-secured, was shut-down for about three hours because of cyber attacks. On Tuesday there was a similar attack on, an e-commerce site that sells computers and electronic products online. The same afternoon, eBay, a leading online auction web site, was incapacitated followed by almost simultaneous attacks on Amazon, the biggest e-commerce web site, and, the news service web site. On Wednesday, the attacks shifted first to ZDNet, a media web site that provided high technology news, and then to E*Trade, an online brokerage web site. There was possibly an attack for a short time on another brokerage site Datek Online, but the site has denied that it was attacked. Finally on Wednesday night, web portal Excite@Home became the ninth victim of such attacks.

By far these attacks were the most serious in the history of internet which not only literally closed down these important web sites for hours but also made a serious dent in customer confidence in the internet-based e-commerce itself. If these sophisticated web sites could not ward off cyber attacks on themselves, how are they going to protect personal details and credit card information of customers? Such attacks were also wearisome to e-businesses, many of whom now depend on the net for time critical purchase of inputs. The US government took these attacks very seriously and denounced the same as “malicious disruption of legitimate commerce”. The US attorney general, Janet Reno, promptly announced an FBI investigation, while her deputy Eric Holder threatened prison sentences of five to 10 years and fines of US $ 2,50,000 or more for the culprits. Later on, president Clinton himself called an emergency summit of internet executives, computer security experts and US government officials on February 15, in an attempt to find solutions to issues raised by these web assaults. There are reports that not only the FBI, but also the US Secret Services and the Pentagon are trying to flush out the culprits with the help of computer security experts. But obviously the chase is not easy.

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