Ads Ask Hackers to Stop Anti-Terrorist Attacks

For some Americans, flying the flag just isn't enough.

Hackers trying to show their patriotism have gotten a little too zealous, spreading viruses and worms, waging denial-of-service attacks and destroying various Middle Eastern Web sites since the Sept. 11 disaster.

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Instead of thwarting the terrorist's efforts, tech experts and FBI officials fear that the hacking is actually harming the integrity and effectiveness of the Internet and preventing it from operating smoothly at a time when it's needed most.

To try to curb this trend, a public service announcement will air next week asking computer hackers to stop their personal cyber-war against terrorism.

"All the noise that's being made by people who think they're being patriotic is hurting the Internet itself and hurting our national efforts against terrorism," said Parry Aftab, executive director of Cyberangels, the Internet safety organization sponsoring the ads.

The "Hackers Against Terrorism" spots which will begin airing Monday on TV, radio and the Web feature Internet forefather Vinton Cerf, who helped develop basic online communications systems in the 1970s.

"There are people who want very much to use the network as a way of expressing their anger," Cerf says in one of the ads. "I hope you won't do that. I hope that all of you who want to devote your energy to uses of the Internet will do so in a constructive way."

Aftab said her organization is trying to discourage hackers from using the Internet to lash out, find terrorists or work on intelligence issues.

"We're trying to get them to stop doing things that are destructive in the fight against terrorism," she said. "They're getting in the way."

The public service announcements instead direct the computer-savvy to volunteer their time and expertise in more productive ways  such as building databases and Web sites related to the rescue effort, helping victims' families get information online and protecting the Internet from malicious code attacks like denials-of-service, worms and viruses.

So far about 100 hackers have contacted Cyberangels to express interest in helping, according to Aftab.

"There are so many rescue efforts that need their skills," she said. "We need to make sure our networks are secure and protected. Anything that gets in the way of the Internet hurts all of that."

Hacking attacks to date have mostly involved low-level defacements of sites related to the Taliban, Afghanistan and the Middle East.

"It's hacking under the guise of false patriotism," said Chip Mesec of in San Mateo, Calif.

So far, online disruption as a result of hacking has been minimal. But the FBI and others want to discourage future activity to ensure the Internet will continue running smoothly.

Security experts say the severity of the damage could escalate when expected U.S. military strikes begin on suspected terrorist cells.

The broad-scale denial-of-service attacks clog Web sites with bogus traffic and can stop major sites from running, making it difficult for people to get news, communicate and conduct business online. That's what happened when hackers disrupted Yahoo!, CNN and other sites in February 2000.

Since the U.S. declared war on terrorism, the Internet has become a crucial medium for news and communication. Tech experts want to preserve it as such, and intend to make sure it remains both reliable and accessible.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.