August 18, 1996 2:30 PM PDT

Jury still out on hacking

The hackers that took over the Justice Department's home page have stirred up the debate about the government's ability and role in regulating the Internet.

Some Internet activists are praising the hackers that turned the U.S. Department of Justice home page into the "Department of Injustice" this weekend, because it demonstrates the agency?s own weakness in regulating activities on the Net.

But others have condemned the hackers because their tasteless actions offer an excellent example of why the government should get more involved in monitoring the Internet.

On Saturday Justice Department home page visitors were greeted by swastikas, nude photos, and George Washington saying "Move my grave to a free country! This rolling is making me an insomniac!"

Anticensorship hackers, hoping to get their point across, changed the home page to read the Department of Injustice, stating that "Big Brother is watching you! Hail your new master!"

The Justice Department said it received complaints on Saturday about its "redesigned" home page and promptly took down the site. It was restored Sunday afternoon and internal communications were not affected.

A department spokesman said today that the department is taking "reasonable action" to catch the perpetrators, but wouldn?t elaborate. Entering a government computer without authorization is a crime punishable by up to five years in prison.

The hackers also expressed concern about the government taking away citizens' rights to freedom and free speech, including wiretapping and unwarranted searches of private property. "Free speech in the land of the free? Privacy in a state of wiretaps and government intrusion? It is hard to trick hundreds of millions of people out of their freedoms," the site read.

The hackers were expressing their opposition to the Communications Decency Act, but many Internet activists say such actions are making matters worse, not better.

"This is precisely the thing we don't need: bad publicity. To the guys that did this...thanks for giving the real CDA-fighters a bad name," said one activist who posted comments in the Fight Censorship news group.

Another comment read: "This'll definitely cost us some of the hard work we've done and headway we've gained in establishing credibility for a cyber-rights movement."

But others disagree and say this incident proves that the government has a long way to go before understanding the Internet.

"The highest law-enforcement office in the land has just been shown to have major vulnerability in defending itself from outside attack. That the attack appears to be not from a concerted terrorist group but whimsical pranksters is even more embarrassing."

"It is the same action that news crews demonstrated by recently smuggling explosives onto planes in the wake of the downing of TWA 800," said Glenn Hauman, president of BiblioBytes, which sells books online.

The hacking incident also confirms the need for better encryption to protect information, Hauman said. "It illustrates the need for stronger cryptography. The government can't even protect its own computers from outside action."

 

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