Chinese hackers blamed for Web defacements

Chinese hackers, possibly angry about the downing of one of their nation’s fighter jets last week, are under investigation by U.S. officials related to the defacement of nine U.S. Web sites.

The nine government and commercial Web sites, including two Navy sites, have been vandalized since the standoff began April 1, the Washington Post reported Friday. One non-military target was a Marin County-based site for artists,, had its homepage replaced with text in Chinese characters, photos of a man in a Chinese military uniform and an audio file playing the Chinese national anthem.

Another targeted Web site identified in the Washington Post article had succeeded in replacing its defaced Web page. Intelligent Direct had been replacing defaced pages for the past week and finally had to just rebuild the site and the Web server, said Dan Olasin, president of Intelligent Direct, a Wellsboro, Pa.-based provider of geographical business services such as mapping.

When asked why his company might have been targeted, Olasin replied: “I haven’t a clue.” His company worked with Dell Computer’s managing hosting service to identify that the hackers were from China based on their IP address, he said. The defaced Web page, which was supposed to contain zip-code maps, featured a Chinese flag and text in Chinese and English referring to China having an atomic bomb.

The FBI was careful not to make any accusations. “We are aware of intrusions emanating from abroad and we are coordinating with appropriate government agencies to determine the origin and nature of these intrusions,” said FBI spokeswoman Debby Weierman.

The Web site defacements are relatively harmless compared to other types of computer attacks that could be waged. “It’s just a bunch of kids performing the cyber equivalent of toilet-papering someone’s house,” said Joel de la Garza of security firm Securify.

Hackers did similar Web site defacements after NATO inadvertently bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999 during the Bosnian conflict, de la Garza added. In fact, political cyberterrorism has been going on in the form of Web site defacements and denial-of-service attacks since at least 1998 when a British hacker published anti-nuclear messages on about 300 Web sites.

Also in 1998, hackers supporting the Zapatista rebels in Mexico tried to shut down Mexican government Web sites with denial-of-service attacks, in which a Web site is bombarded with so traffic that it is temporarily inaccessible. Other cyberattacks have protested nuclear tests in India, human-rights abuses in China and Iraq, Indonesian control over East Timor and repression in Kashmir.

Meanwhile, a report issued last week by the General Services Administration said hackers were able to take control of computer systems in more than 155 incidents at federal civilian agencies last year.