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Web Sites Held Hostage

Updated on September 16, 2009

Web Sites Held Hostage

No one gets murdered, so you probably won't see it on Law and Order anytime soon. NCIS wouldn't be interested either. A hacker breaks into a web site, flips a few bits, and becomes lord of the realm, After that, anything goes. A dramatic exchange of 1's and 0's, but not much for prime time viewing. No hostage negotiations will make the prime-time news. Cable news outlets have no experts to explain the techniques of the information-age hostage negotiator. Local news has no hostage film "live at 6."

Very recently a computer in Virginia was hacked. Criminals demanded a million dollar ransom. They didn't use a gun and they kept no human hostages, but they announced to the world their control over millions of identities. The web site contained payment information for innumerable prescriptions from all over the state. By threatening to sell the information to other black hats, the hackers became an immediate threat to a significant portion of the population.

In an obvious effort to complicate this even more, consider that the computer may not even be in the same time zone as Virginia. It's possible the computer with the web site resides in Virginia while the computer with the identities database draws power in in West Virginia. Or Canada. This calls for an interdepartmental task force led by Jack Bauer. Traditional hostage negotiations tactics provide no leverage here.

Perhaps a new reality show titled "The Hostage Computer" ?

Since we are pummeled daily with ads warning us about the perils of losing our identities, these hackers had much of their work done for them. They saw no need to create a new wave of public emotion; they simply piggybacked on something we already fear. They achieved instant credibility by replacing the home page of the web site with their ransom note. Perhaps that's all they did. Perhaps they couldn't even access the database. However, perception is reality when it comes down to the possibility of someone in Nigeria buying a plasma TV with your Visa card. Cheeky, yes? After that, they crawled beneath their rocks and waited for public opinion to boil over.

No one knows the damage they may have already caused. The ransom demand might be a red herring intended to distract from an ongoing online auction of Virginia identities. We expect them to act in good faith?

Take care and protect yourself. Expect your identity to be compromised eventually. Put a lock on your mailbox, monitor your credit report, and shred sensitive documents. Be conversant in the credit card fraud laws in your state. In some cases a $50 limit is the extent of your responsibility.

Some photos may be courtesy of


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