Security fault gave hacker access

It took more than four hours for USF technology representatives to restore the Academic Computing Web site after a hacker defaced the page Tuesday evening.

But the problem should have never occurred, said Tony Llewellyn, director for Academic Computing Services.

Llewellyn said the site contained a log-in link that allowed the hacker to break the system’s code and change the page’s original content. Llewellyn said computers are usually protected with a buffer overflow, which prevents a system’s vulnerability to hackers.

“It’s possible if the page was not properly constructed, they could deface the site,” Llewellyn said. “There is a lot of vulnerability on HTML pages.”

Llewellyn said the Academic Computing site, which serves as a support page for student e-mail, was defaced at about 7 p.m. Tuesday and was not restored until about 12:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Two Academic Computing representatives had to fix the USF site from Washington, D.C., where they were attending a technology conference.

“It would have only took about two hours to get the site back up if they were here,” Llewellyn said.

Edson Freire vandalized the site Tuesday evening by replacing the content with Japanese animation and a political message, written in Portuguese, against a possible war in Iraq. Freire identified himself through an e-mail to The Oracle as a 16-year-old Brazilian.

Representatives began checking various USF Web pages on machines throughout the campus on Wednesday. Llewellyn said representatives will be checking computers on campus to make sure another hacker doesn’t deface any USF links. But with 16,000 machines on campus, Llewellyn said he isn’t sure when they will be finished.

Freire said in a Web chat Tuesday that he has vandalized other sites that use the program Solaris OS because it is a challenge since it is harder to break the system’s code.

Lawrence Hall, a USF computer science engineering professor, said Solaris is a security operation for Web sites and is more secure than other operating systems, making it less vulnerable to hackers.

Llewellyn said the Academic Computing site gets at least 10 attempts every day from hackers. Llewellyn said there are tools and downloaded that can be used to hack into systems, making it easier to deface sites even for people who are unfamiliar with computer operations.

Llewellyn said charges against Freire are unlikely because unless there is at least $5,000 in damages to the site, it is not worth pursuing.

But Hall said the hacker should see some kind of punishment.

“It still takes a lot of time and effort to fix this,” Hall said. “It’s not very amusing.”