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Tuesday, January 26, 1999 Published at 15:01 GMT


Virtual country 'nuked' on Net

Connect-Ireland's Website now carries only a simple condemnation

By Internet Correspondent Chris Nuttall

The Indonesian Government is being blamed for a highly-organised attack on computers in Ireland which brought down the East Timor virtual country domain.

[ image:  ]
Connect-Ireland says it is lodging a formal protest with the Indonesian Embassy in London after it was forced to shut down its systems, disrupting its Internet service provision to 3,000 customers.

The cracker attacks, perhaps the first of their kind orchestrated by a government, began last Tuesday and, after a week, the domain guardian and Internet Service Provider was still struggling to restore its services.

"E-Nazis" create chaos

Only its home page was accessible, containing a statement headlined: E-Nazis Creating Chaos on the Net.

"The apparent aim of the attack was to disrupt the East Timorese Internet domain [.tp], established only twelve months ago by the East Timorese Project, " said the statement.

[ image: Bishop Belo: Initiated virtual country]
Bishop Belo: Initiated virtual country
The project was initiated by Connect-Ireland and the 1996 Nobel Prize winners Ramos Horta and Bishop Belo. The main site, returned a 404 Not Found error message on Tuesday.

"The perpetrators of this attack have not yet been identified, but the Indonesian government is known to be extremely antagonistic towards this display of virtual sovereignty," said the statement.

Robots mounted 18 attacks

Connect-Ireland's project director, Martin Maguire, told BBC News Online that e-mail for customers was now being delivered and new passwords were being issued.

BBC's Ireland correspondent, Leo Enright, reports from Dublin
He said crackers had been testing the servers' defences for the past nine months before launching lightning simultaneous attacks from countries as far apart as Australia, Japan, Holland and the United States.

"There were 18 simultaneous attacks on our server by robots trying to claw down our defences," said Martin.

"This was a very high-level attack that had to be planned and co-ordinated."

Once they had broken in, the crackers set up their own domain host,, with the possible aim of using it for fund-raising or propaganda on East Timor.

A new style of war

Connect-Ireland responded with its "nuclear option" of a complete shutdown. "We have re-invented ourselves in the space of a week, moving platforms, using other versions of software on new hardware," said Martin.

He said other services in Japan and the United States had been hit by similar attacks but were not reporting them for fear of bad publicity.

"This is the ostrich nature of the industry. But it's going to be the new style of war. You can see these tactics becoming part of official government policy and a potential weapon."

"And it can take place against real countries. Probably no government has contingency plans for this, no government has mandatory reporting of such incidents and there is no plan for managing the problem."

There was no-one available for comment at the Indonesian Embassy in London on Tuesday.

  • This story has prompted a long discussion thread on the Slashdot "News for Nerds" site. One of the theories put forward is that those directly responsible were fans of the Beavis and Butthead cartoon as the address could refer to an "I need tp [toilet paper]" line from an episode. Martin Maguire responded he could not see ordinary crackers expending their energy for nine months on testing defences and then mounting a worldwide co-ordinated campaign.

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