Behind the Headlines
by Justin Raimondo
The BBC headline said it all: "Serb Hackers on the rampage" or did it? This was the story the media went with in response to last week's spate of hacking attacks on a number of high profile sites, including Addidas and Viagra, where the content was stripped and replaced with a Serbian double-headed eagle emblem, along with the slogan "Kosovo is Serbia." Gee, it must have been those nasty Serbs after all, who else would do it? Well, now that you mention it, there is at least one alternative explanation: that this was an electronic Pearl Harbor, staged, just like the 1941 version as Robert B. Stinnett points out in his recent book, Day of Deceit with perfect foreknowledge of the alleged "victim."
What the BBC wasn't telling us, at least not that day, was that Serbian sites were also attacked in the same time period and in precisely the same manner. As Jared Israel pointed out in an article posted here, the BBC later revised their story that opened up the possibility that others might be involved, and then ran a back page item about the attacks on Yugo sites. But media bias against the Serbs, especially on the part of the BBC, is hardly a story at least to those of us who have been covering this beat since the summer of last year. The BBC is, after all, a government-controlled corporation under the direct control of Tony Blair, who made the Kosovo war a personal crusade much as Maggie Thatcher had made the reconquest of the Falklands her own. So we don't believe the official explanation, but then what? Well, let's take a look at what kind of shenanigans are taking place on the Internet these days for the best clues to the identities of the perpetrators are in their methods.
All of the recent hack attacks were cases of cyber-jacking, literally hijacking a website by utilizing the automated software of the official domain guardian, Network Solutions. As a government-privileged monopoly, the recently "privatized" Network Solutions is in charge of handing out domain names and keeping a register (or database) that records who owns what name. The whole process of registering is automated: you can check and see if a domain name (JustinRaimondo.com) has been homesteaded. If not you can apply electronically and the payment of a small fee will give your claim legitimacy. Likewise, if you want to transfer ownership and operation of a site to another party, you simply send those friendly folks at Network Solutions an e-mail effecting the transfer. They e-mail you back, to verify that it is really you, you reply and the change is effected. Without Network Solutions, we would be in a cyber-war of all against all, in which rival claimants to a given domain name would be fighting it out, battling to defend (or take back) their own beleaguered bit of cyber-turf or so the company's defenders (mostly in Congress) would have us believe. But if we take seriously Network Solution's official explanation for the recent hijackings, then the very basis of the Internet the security and legitimacy of domain names may well be under attack. The war of all against all may have begun and the authors of this electronic Pearl Harbor are most likely not sitting in Belgrade, but somewhere much much closer to home.
According to Network Solutions, the recent "spoofings" of their system occurred in the following manner: someone sent them an e-mail transferring the rights to a domain name say, Serbia-info.com from SlobodanMilosevicInc@ethnic-cleanser.org to HashimThaciEnterprises@narcoterrorist.com. Network Solutions then automatically generates e-mail seeking verification, in effect asking "Are you sure you want to do this?" If the recipient replies, then the change is put into effect. What Network Solutions is asking us to believe is that, somehow, the automated system by which domain names are registered and reregistered was "spoofed" that a verification e-mail sent by their system was somehow intercepted by the spoofers, who then "answered" it and took over the sites some 2,000 of them, according to the London Metro, although Network Solutions says it was "considerably less." Whatever the number, this strange outbreak of cyberwarfare raises some equally strange questions . . .
The first is, how is it possible that the hackers emulated the web address of the legitimate owners of those sites every computer expert I have talked to denies that this is plausible. It is possible, of course, that Network Solutions e-mail verification system does not read the address line of incoming change requests, and instead only reads the subject line and the message itself. But this seems laughable, the equivalent of setting up a security system with a hole big enough for an army of virtual Visigoths to pour through, defacing and destroying everything in sight and undermining the very foundations of the cyber- economy. So this cannot be the case can it?
The shifty and contradictory non-explanations given by Network Solutions are the basis of a remarkably opaque article in the (British) Register, which avers that "Network Solutions systems are not hacked, the e-outfit claims. It' s just a case of old-fashioned fraud and deception." A representative of the company added that:
"There was nothing stopping domain name owners to opt for other, more sophisticated security measures if they want to ensure greater protection. Both an encrypted password systems and a pretty good privacy (PGP) system are available from Network Solutions and both are free of charge."
Well, yes, that's technically true, except that almost no one who runs a website actually goes through the process of registering their domain name their Internet Service Provider (ISP) does it for them. And what they aren't telling you is that the e-mail verification system is the default security system in place for all domain owners a system the Register describes as "a bit like locking up your house and leaving the key under the nearest flower pot." The Register maintains that " If security was an issue, they should have done more to protect their property." But this response seems positively Clintonian in its evasiveness and eerily irrelevant in the face of such a startling revelation. For if we take the Network Solutions explanation at face value, then the default security system for the entire Internet community is worse than inadequate it is an open invitation to cyberwarfare without end.
That, at least, is one theory, the official story, which might be called the "Outside Job" thesis: the idea that Network Solutions, which has been granted a government monopoly on the domain-registration business, defends the integrity of its system so weakly and ineffectively that it is possible for sites to be easily hijacked. This theory places the blame on outside hackers in this case, supposedly "rampaging" Serbs. But the "Serbs-on-the-rampage" story was soon modified by the BBC, which later acknowledged that Serb sites were also hacked. And this whole "mad cyber-Serbs" scenario begins to fall apart when we look at the details of this hack attack: Serbia-info.com was completely taken over and replaced with lengthy ideological diatribes praising NATO, accusing the Serbs of genocide, complete with graphics and all the familiar Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) rhetoric. The Western and Albanian sites that fell to the cyber-assault an odd mix of dot-coms and dot-orgs: commercial, political, sports, and Albanian sites were simply stripped of content and replaced with a polite little emblem and a laconic "Kosovo is Serbia." Not only that, but these cyber-pirates of the Net left a typically juvenile hint of their allegiance in their emblem, like the hieroglyphic markings that deface every surface in our inner cities and mark out the territorial claims of rival gangs. In small italic script at the bottom of the double-headed eagle was a message: "Be happy if we hacked your site, because we hack only the best sites on the Internet." Isn't it strange that "rampaging Serbs" are paying Bosnia.com, the semi-official homepage of the Bosnian government, such a high compliment and telling them to "be happy"? Be happy, don't worry it's nothing. That's the "official" line but what is the truth? I don't want to engage in pure speculation, but in view of Network Solution's inability to come up with a convincing lie, one bereft of both the technical and the logical contradictions in the official story, there is no way to proceed any further in solving this mystery of the hijacked websites without examining alternative theories.
Counterposed to the "Outside Job" thesis is the "Inside Job" theory, which holds that Network Solutions is itself the key to the mystery that the company is a front for US intelligence operations. CIA-trained Albanian cyber-terrorists unleashed last year by President Clinton in a top-secret special directive authorizing full-scale cyberwarfare against targets in the former Yugoslavia are indeed on the loose, as the administrators of Serbia-info, yu.com, and others can readily attest. But if they were behind the recent hack attacks, then the question remains: how did they manage to intercept the e-mail verification from Network Solutions and gain access to the site? Rather than positing some arcane method of e-mail interception recently devised by private hackers, the simplest explanation is that is was an inside job inside Network Solutions, that is.
What is this mysterious company, the Arbiter of Cyberspace, or more accurately: who profits from this government-created monopoly?: an excellent piece in the New Haven Advocate exposes Network Solutions as the bastard child of affirmative action programs and the military-industrial complex:
"In 1992, Congress asked the National Science Foundation to commercialize the Internet. The NSF took competitive bids and awarded five-year contract to a consortium that included what was then one of the nation's largest African-American owned companies: Network Solutions Inc."
Just read between the lines. Unsurprisingly, it turns out that the $5.9 million Congress had appropriated was spent long before the company had even begun its grandiose task of building an information system called "InterNIC," which would assign all web addresses and operate the treasured "A" server. This legendary server, the Holy Grail of the Internet, is described by the New Haven Advocate as:
"a putty-colored plastic box on a small aluminum shelf in a squat brick office park in Herndon, Va., about an hour east of Washington, D.C. Measuring 18 inches square and just over 7 inches high, the box looks like the other 100 million personal computers that routinely surf the Internet. And this computer is pretty much like the others, except for one thing: Without this box, the Internet wouldn't work."
Now do you get it? There's a little box on an aluminum shelf where else but in Washington, D.C? that contains the beating heart of the Internet. In that box is a circuit of some kind upon which the word antiwar.com is translated into numbers with dots between them and that is how (if not why) you are here, and how you can send e-mail to our web address. A key question naturally arises: who has the keys to that box and how, and under what circumstances, could they open it, reach in, and take whatever is in there?
Without the funding to complete their rather large task, Network Solutions could not go on but a solution to this problem (which seemed built into the scheme from the beginning) was soon found. It just so happened that at the very moment Network Solutions seemed to be running out of money, "a giant California military contractor was going on a buying spree." The New Haven Advocate described the company's corporate suitor:
"Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) is headquartered in an affluent seaside town just north of San Diego. From the outside, the company's well-manicured corporate campus looks like any other. But inside, armed guards are posted in front of doors that bristle with high-tech locks, and lead-lined rooms hinder would-be electronic eavesdroppers."
Spooky and I mean that literally. Ex-CIA directors Robert Gates, Bobby Inman, and John Deutch number among SAIC's directors, not to mention former defense secretaries William Perry and Melvin Laird. SAIC makes virtually all of its $2 billion yearly income from government contracts, and they acquired Network Solutions in March 1995. In spite of plans to set up a free market in domain names, decentralize the "A" server, and open up competition in the key registration business, Network Solutions/SAIC has used its considerable political clout to extend its supposedly time-limited monopoly, seemingly into the indefinite future.
I am no computer maven, but you don't have to be Linus Torvald to understand that whomever holds that putty-colored box in their hot little hands has literally godlike powers in cyber-space. Could it be that handing the box over to SAIC is like some alternative version of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, in which Sauron and not Frodo has been entrusted with the Ring of Power? As Tolkien put it in his famous trilogy:
"One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
"One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
"In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie."
Recent events on the Internet and not just the sudden "glitch" in the domain registration process are more than enough to raise serious questions about what role Network Solutions is playing in all this: what is needed is a thorough investigation, and not by the company itself but by an impartial outside agency that can determine the truth and restore confidence in an e-economy already badly shaken by the roiling financial markets. I would go even further and ask: are US intelligence agencies and their Albanian trained seals endangering the security and integrity of the Internet in a bid to discredit the Serbs and destabilize the Milosovic government? Inquiring minds want to know. In any case, I wouldn't put it past them would you?
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