Video: Lieberman campaign Web site hacked

By Bob Sullivan Technology correspondent
msnbc.com
updated 8/8/2006 6:47:31 PM ET 2006-08-08T22:47:31

The man responsible for Joe Lieberman's campaign Web site said Tuesday that Joe2006.com was overwhelmed by traffic generated by hackers early Tuesday morning, forcing him to take the site off-line. 

Tuesday's attack was the third in the past month, said Dan Geary, who runs Lieberman's site. But the earlier two attacks involved defacements — the hacker altered content on Lieberman's home page. This time, attackers toppled the Lieberman site with requests, probably by directing an army of hacked computers at the site.

"I can't stop a tank," Geary said. "We got an insane amount of queries."  He said he couldn't offer specifics about the kind of traffic the site was receiving or where it was coming from, other than to say it involved multiple requests for Web pages, FTP files, and e-mails — enough to effectively kill any functions involving the Joe2006.com domain.

The Web site troubles also affected campaign workers' e-mail, blunting last-minute, e-mail get out the vote efforts. Campaigners were forced to communicate using their personal e-mail accounts.

Lieberman's toppled Web site quickly became a political issue on Tuesday, the day of the hotly contested Connecticut Democratic party primary vote. Lieberman is facing a fierce challenge from upstart Ned Lamont. 

Early in the day, Lieberman's campaign manager accused Lamont's office of orchestrating the cyberattack. Lamont quickly and emphatically denied any involvement.

But the story quickly took on a life of its own on the Internet. When Lieberman's site was taken offline, the initial error message suggested the site owner to contact the "billing department."  That led to speculation that Lieberman had failed to pay his Internet hosting bills; a not-uncommon problem when Web sites suddenly disappear. But Lieberman's campaign denied the charge, and a new error message indicating the site was under construction soon appeared.

The Joe2006.com Web site was hosted on a computer named ThePlanet.com, a Web server computer that also hosts about 70 other Web sites.  Many of those sites — such as NVToday.com, a local news service in Nevada — were also hard to reach on Tuesday.

Visitors to the site were redirected to a page on the domain MyHostCamp.com, which was also hosted on ThePlanet.com.

The server itself sits in leased space at a Web bandwidth provider named ServerMatrix in Dallas, Texas.  The company would not answer questions about the incident on Tuesday.

But Christopher Ambler, Chief Software Strategist at Internet domain registrat eNom, Inc., said 70 Web sites on a single server is actually a modest amount.

Still, Lieberman critics faulted the campaign for not buying enough bandwidth to handle election-day traffic, hinting that Geary confused widespread interest in the campaign with a denial-of-service attack.

Geary responded by saying the campaign had "a very robust hosting solution," and was paying for more than enough bandwidth to support campaign efforts.

"This is a direct disruption of a federal campaign," he said.  "I have to see us go to an era where security is primary instead of the primary focus being new and innovative ways to get the message out."

Geary said he hadn't yet determined where the extraneous traffic was coming from, and investigators had no suspects. 

"It could be a teen-ager in a dorm room in one of 30 countries," he said.  Geary wasn't ready to accuse Lamont supporters for the attack, but he did say it was probably politically motivated.

"Is it some guy in Lamont headquarters? No," he said. "But was it an overzealous supporter? Maybe."

Geary was hopeful the site would be up and running before the night was over.  He planned to move the site's files to a different host, but wouldn't say where.

"I'm told the only way to beat the hackers is to stay ahead of them," he said.

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