Forgotten $35 bill cripples Hotmail
Times of India dt. 31/12/99
Microsoft Corp., the software giant worth an estimated $600 billion, said on Wednesday its free e-mail service had been partially crippled because it forgot to pay a $35 bill.
Some users of Microsoft’s Hotmail service were unable to access their accounts over the Christmas weekend, Kathy Gill, a Microsoft spokeswoman confirmed. The glitch was caused after Redmond, Washington based Microsoft failed to pay a $35 fee to registration company Network Solutions for rights to the Internet domain name passport.com, which verifies user names and passwords for Hotmail and other services, Ms. Gill said. Hotmail has more than 52 million users around the world, but Microsoft said it was unclear how many had experienced problems. In an ironic twist, the missed billing was discovered and paid by Michael Chaney, an Antioch, Tennessee – based programmer who works with the Linux operating system, an upstart competitor to Microsoft’s Windows platform. On his website at http://www.doublewide.net Mr. Chaney said he paid the fee with his personal Mastercard on Christmas morning and had received a call on Tuesday from a Microsoft executive thanking him for fixing the problem.
Microsoft said it would refund Mr. Chaney the $35, although Mr. Chaney hinted his bailout of the world’s biggest software company was worth more. “Microsoft is under no legal obligation to repay the $35 to me, and it doesn’t really matter to me if they do or not. If they do…. I would ask that when they make out a check they consider how much revenue would have otherwise been lost had this been down for another day or two, in addition to the inconvenience to people who rely on Hotmail as their only source of e-mail contact.” Mr. Chaney wrote.
Times Of India
By Andrea Orr (Palo Alto) 10 Feb 2000
The popular Internet Portal Yahoo Inc. suffered a three-hour outage on Monday after a series of attacks were directed at its computers, blocking millions of people from entering the site to access news and other services.
The crash was the worst in Yahoo’s history and stunned many online customers for the way it challenged the increasingly popular notion of the Internet as a reliable system for the exchange of vital information.
Although other popular Internet services like America Online Inc. and eBay Inc. had similar, or worse outages as they embarked on a course of rapid growth, their problems were related to internal infrastructure rather than sabotage. The fact that Monday’s attack was directed at Yahoo, one of the most visited and most reliable sites on the Internet, raised new questions about the vulnerabilities of all web sites.
A spokeswoman for Yahoo said that the outage, which began around 1015 PST on Monday, was caused by what appeared to be a planned attack from someone bombarding its servers with fake messages. The effect, she said was to jam the servers and prevent real users from accessing requested information.
The company stopped short of calling the incident a hacker attack, since it said that no one had actually intruded into its systems. It said none of its internal data or personal customer information had been compromised.
Many questions remained unanswered on Monday, including the source of the attack and why it had been able to cause such a prolonged outage before backup systems kicked in.
Although Yahoo described the outage as “intermittent”, users who tried repeatedly to access the site on Monday morning and afternoon said it appeared to be down consistently.
“For the first 15 minutes (of the outage), we were able to get onto the site about half the times we tried,” said Dan Todd, director of public services at Keynote Systems Inc., a company that monitors Web site performance and reliability. “But since that time, we got a success rate of less that two percent. To me that’s not quite intermittent.” By 1350 PST, the site was functioning normally.
The type of attack launched against Yahoo, in which large amounts of incoming data jam the site, is a fairly common kind of intrusion, known as a “coordinated distributed denial of service.”
Monday’s attack came through a Sunnyvale, California-based data center operated by Global Crossing Ltd’s GlobalCenter subsidiary. Most big Internet services use data centers like GlobalCenter to host critical computers and servers in order to make them more secure.
Laurie Priddy, executive vice president of systems applications at Global Center, said the company had worked most of the day on restoring Yahoo’s service, and had only started examining the cause of the outage. However, she did say that it appeared the attack had been extensive enough to cover part of the company’s backup systems as well as its front line computers.
It was not immediately clear what impact the outage would have on Yahoo’s revenues and customer loyalty, although industry analysts noted that Yahoo has become one of the main fixtures of the Internet that many customers do not just surf casually, but depend on in the course of their work days.
“It would be one thing if they were just an Internet search engine,” says Jupiter communications analyst Cormac Foster. “But they provide a lot of mission-critical services like calendars.”
In an effort to distinguish itself from its rivals, Yahoo, and most other Internet portals, have phased in more customerised services like online calendaring, where people can go to keep a complete schedule of their appointments. The benefit of such services is that they build viewer loyalty by storing personal data the user can only access by returning to the site. But if service is not reliable, it could have the reverse effect.
Similarly, analysts expect companies that advertise on Yahoo will require some kind of compensation for the outage. Yahoo is the most visited portal on the Internet and every day delivers an average of 465 million pages, many which contain banner ads or some other kind of promotion.
Clay Ryder, vice president and chief analyst at Zona Research, said in addition to the costs of compensating its advertisers, the outage could also cost Yahoo “soft money” in the loss of goodwill that could send some advertisers and customers to rival sites.
However, none of Yahoo’s big competitors were claiming victory on Monday. Rather, the fact that an established business like Yahoo could be so vulnerable to an outside attack seemed to sweep through the industry as a sobering reminder of the hazards and unknowns still facing all web sites.
“We never say it can’t happen again,” Yahoo president Jeff Mallett said in an interview on CNBC late on Monday. “But we do have our backup sites ready to go.”
Hackers run riot, target Amazon, others
Dick Satran (San Francisco) 9 Feb 2000
Hackers pulled off a series of brazen attacks on major websites on Tuesday, leading to shutdowns at Buy.com and eBay after a similar assault hit Yahoo! The day before.
The attacks followed the same pattern, with a massive flow of automated Internet messages landing on the sites and swamping them with millions of messages, effectively blocking them to routine traffic.
Other sites, too, appeared to be operating slowly, suggesting even more might have been targeted.
Late on Tuesday, online retailing giant Amazon.com also appeared to have fallen victim to an attack, according to internet monitoring firm Keynote Systems.
Hackers also did serious damage to CNN Interactive, which administers the website of Cable News Network, cnn.com, slowing content flow to a tickle for nearly two hours, a CNN official said.
Keynote, which tracks websites’ speed and reliability, said it noted a sharp drop in Amazon’s ability to let customers into its store and minutes later was able to enter only about 1.5 per cent of the times it tried.
“Its inaccessibility looks very similar to what we saw with Yahoo and eBay and Buy.com” a Keynote spokeswoman said, adding that the exact cause of the failure was still unclear.
Amazon’s site appeared to be back up and running normally about an hour later. Amazon officials were not available for comment.
CNN Interactive spokeswoman Edna Johnson said hackers attacked the site from 7 pm EST (0000 GMT) until about 8.45 pm (0145 GMT on Wednesday) the company’s upstream providers had put blocks in place to shield the site from further attacks.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in San Francisco met on Tuesday with Yahoo!, the first to be hit. The government has bolstered its efforts to track down electronic crime on the internet since e-commerce turned into a serious driver of the economy over the past two years.
“We are in a dialogue with Yahoo!,” a spokeswoman for the agency said. “I can’t comment further right now.” The FBI had no immediate comment on the eBay and Buy.com situation.
The rapid succession of disruptions on a massive scale suggests that the same group was behind all of the attacks, said chief technology officer Elias Levy, of Securityfocus.com, computer security information service.
“It would be very difficult to assemble this level of attack so quickly if it were a copycat.” Said Levy. “That doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen. But to generate this level of traffic requires a lot of machines working together.”
By repeating the attacks, the preperators were raising the possibility that they would be apprehended, he said, but because their attacks could be directed from anywhere in the world they could be difficult to find. The incidents have relied mostly on brute force, not obscure technology, to do damage.
The hackers are simply inundating the commercial websites with so much traffic they can no longer operate. Yahoo!’s site was pounded with one gigabit, or one million bit of information, per second, or about what some sites handle in an entire week, at the height of Monday’s attack.
The data were sent from “zombie” machines taken over by a single person or group of people from a remote location.
“The problem is to find the command center that’s controlling all of the machines,” said Christopher Kalus, chief technology officer of Internet Security Systems. “This is a nontrivial problem.”
The hackers avoid detection by jumping from one computer network to another to cover their tracks, and by immediately erasing any data that might identify them. Yahoo!, the biggest stand-alone website and the first to be hit, was almost completely shut down for over two hours on Monday, although the company said it expected no financial impact from the incident.
Yahoo!, which generates much of its revenue through advertising, was able to reschedule ad spots. But since an estimated 100 m pages would have been viewed during the two hours the site was down, the company could potentially have lost as much as $500,000 analysts said.
Yahoo! said the attack on its site had been narrowed to 50 internet addresses though computer security experts said even with that number, it would take time track any hacker.