Area Net users don't attract hackers' attention, ISPs say

Most Internet users in Carson City probably would not attract the attention of hackers, say the people who make the network connections.

"There is no real security on the Internet - get used to it," Pyramid Net owner Bob McDermand said bluntly. "The state of the art for the Internet literally changes by the hour."

But anyone who uses the Internet should be taking common-sense precautions with their computer connections, because Internet technology constantly changes without warning.

Jeff Obst, president of the firm edurus, echoed that.

"I don't care if you are the most secure installation out there, you're still vulnerable," Obst said. But he said people have to be cautious off the Net as much as on it.

"It's that way with anything. You give your credit card to the waitress at the restaurant and you don't know what happens with it."

That said, the typical home or small business computer connected by modem is not a likely target for hackers mounting the distributed denial of service attacks that recently shut down major Internet services like Yahoo, and eBay.

Those attacks were accomplished by hackers remotely planting software programs, called daemons, on numerous scattered computers, then triggering the daemons to simultaneously send repeated requests for attention to the targeted Internet servers. The targeted servers were overwhelmed by millions of such requests and were not able to respond to legitimate requests for service.

The computers that carried the daemon programs are called zombies because they were controlled by hackers without the knowledge of their operators.

"A denial of service attack is not really a hack into the targeted computer system, but a series of requests or 'pings,'" Obst said. "What the hacker wants is attention, so systems the size we have in this area aren't likely targets."

McDermand said hackers sometimes try less intense denial of service attacks, originating from a single computer.

"They're not new. It's happened over the past few years and usually we can tell it's happening in 10 or 15 minutes," he said.

"Once we know which server they're targeting, we stop access momentarily and they get an unavailability error back. They go away, looking somewhere else."

"We have people monitoring our systems constantly, to keep everything running."

Kirk Caraway of, which hosts about 80 area websites, explained that websites usually are not protected by firewalls - a special level of protection - since their whole purpose is to exchange information with other computer systems. He said the computers that hold websites, called web servers, have security systems built into their software.

"But if someone is determined to get in, they're going to do it. They did it when the president was on the Internet a few days ago." Caraway said. "But the same is true of a burglar - if he's determined to get into your building, he'll get in."

Web sites do get hacked, Caraway said, but a professional web hosting company would have a backup copy of the plundered site and could quickly restore it.

Computer owners should be more concerned that they are not unknowing participants in an Internet-spread problem, Obst said. He said a Reno Internet service provider was infected by the Saddam computer virus in January.

The program gets onto a computer by being downloaded as an e-mail attachment and run. It then scans the hard drive for e-mail addresses and sends itself out to each.

"Saddam came out in December and all the virus software vendors had updates available to scan for and eliminate it," Obst said. "Unfortunately, these folks either weren't scanning diligently or had not updated their virus software recently."


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