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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 January 2006, 06:07 GMT
Blackmailers target $1m website
Alex Tew shows off his website
Alex Tew gained unwanted attention from net attacks
The site of a UK student who had the idea of selling pixels as advertising space has been hit by a web attack.

Alex Tew, 21, hit the headlines at the start of the year when he revealed his Million Dollar Homepage had made him a million dollars in four months.

But the publicity brought the unwanted attention of extortionists who knocked the site over with a massive denial-of-service attack.

Following a week of downtime, the website is now back online.

Police alerted

Mr Tew's encounter with the net criminals began on 7 January when he received an e-mail threatening to bombard the site with data unless he paid a ransom of $5,000 (2,800).

I haven't replied to any of them as I don't want to give them the satisfaction and I certainly don't intend to pay them any money
Alex Tew
He did not respond and the 10 January deadline passed without incident. But the following day the site went down, and has only been up intermittently since then.

A series of other e-mails, upping the ransom to $50,000 (28,000), followed.

"I haven't replied to any of them as I don't want to give them the satisfaction and I certainly don't intend to pay them any money," Mr Tew told the BBC News website.

Both the FBI and the Hi-Tech Crime Unit of the Wiltshire Constabulary have been notified about the problem.

"Their instinct is that this attack originates in Russia although it is not possible to track the e-mail back to its source," said Mr Tew.

"There is not much more that they can do," he added.

Instead, Mr Tew's web hosting firm Sitelutions worked to solve the problem, initially coming up with a hardware solution.

It did not work because of the size of the attack.

Currently traffic to Mr Tew's website is being filtered via a US-based firm DDoSprotection.com - experts in dealing with such attacks - and that solution appears to be working.

The site is back online, albeit a little slow for visitors.

Preventing denial-of-service attacks can be a costly business but, ever the entrepreneur, Mr Tew is hopeful he can do a deal with his new partner - offering them free ad space in return for them keeping his site up and running.

Zombie PCs

It has become common practice for extortionists to target net firms and threaten to cripple their websites with deluges of data unless they pay a ransom.

DDoS = Distributed Denial of Service attack
Malicious hacker uses virus to hijack numerous computers
On command these zombie computers flood the targeted website with useless data
The target's internet servers are overwhelmed by junk data
Customers have trouble using the targeted website
Targeted website can be slow or inaccessible for days
Fighting DoS attacks is laborious and costly
Because the zombies are distributed across the internet, finding the attacker is difficult

So-called Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks overwhelm servers with customer requests until they are forced offline.

Computers are innocently recruited from all over the world to take part in the attack, each sending only a small part of the entire data flood.

The recruiting of machines to take part in attacks is typically done by infecting them with a virus or worm.

The net address of compromised machines - dubbed zombies or bots - is sent back to the criminal, who will use it to launch a DDoS.

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31 May 05 |  Technology
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22 Mar 05 |  Technology
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13 Jan 05 |  Technology
Student's cash-raising net scheme
22 Sep 05 |  Wiltshire
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04 Oct 04 |  Business

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