Nation/World

Computer Company Falls Into Hacker’s Web Without A Cyber Sleuth On Staff, Police Can’t Track ‘Kilroy’

Joe Stiley’s company spent $700,000 to create an Inland Northwest travel guide and business directory for computer users.

Within hours of putting the system on the Internet, somebody tried to steal it. Four days later, the hacker succeeded, copying all the information without leaving any tracks, Stiley said.

“It’s cyber-crime, right here in River City,” said Stiley, founder of the Information Mini-Mall, 715 W. Second in Spokane.

It’s part of the insecurity of the Internet, something that businesses try to guard against but often fail.

Defending against the theft of network programs is often like plugging holes in a dam made of sponges. Hackers enjoy the challenge of getting past security systems.

“They’re tough crimes,” said Marc Rotenberg, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, D.C., which monitors computer privacy and security issues. “They involve a high level of technical expertise. They’re often interstate.”

The Information Mini-Mall thief left an electronic taunt: “I wuz here! U hAvE mAnY sEcUriTy HoLes!! U nEeD 2 FiX tHeM!! Kilroy. Kilroy. Kilroy.”

Many police departments nationwide are assigning officers full-time to tracking computer crime, such as child cyberporn, illegal credit card scams and network break-ins, Rotenberg said.

Computer crimes are not a high priority to the Spokane Police Department. The Information Mini-Mall filed a police report the day the theft was discovered. No officer has been assigned to the case.

Computer hacking “is not generally something we take on,” Lt. Scott Johnson said. “We don’t have the technical expertise or time to take it on. I know we don’t do those cases, really, at all.”

Officers investigating fraud cases handle any major computer crime. Several high-level computer crimes have been investigated in the past two or three years, Johnson said. But police have no suspects in this theft, considered relatively minor, and are not looking.

“We’re not going to go out and chase rainbows,” Johnson said.

Stiley’s customers lost little computer time, and the system was barely dented. The new programs are still on the World Wide Web.

Whoever stole the software programs could conceivably change a few accessories, such as color, and then put up a different version with different bells and whistles on another spot on the Internet. Or, perhaps, use the database of area businesses for mailing lists.

That’s what worries Stiley. “I’d like the credit for the work we did,” he said. “I’d like the world at large to know what we did.”

In Spokane, the Information MiniMall is probably best known for teaching Internet classes and providing access to customers. The business is also a coffee shop, with pods of computers next to tables with olive oil, salt and pepper.

But in the back rooms, about 13 people have been working on new products. The products, complete with pictures and maps, are called “Roots & Routes” and the “Inland Empire Business Directory.”

“Roots & Routes” is an on-line travelogue that lists histories, high-lights, advice and attractions of communities in North Idaho. Eventually, communities in Washington, Montana and Oregon will be included.

The program links with the business directory, which includes about 20,000 area businesses. Users can search communities for any kind of business, such as silver businesses in Kellogg or music stores in Sandpoint.

Some companies, such as the Monarch West Lodge in Sandpoint, have bought spots that allow users to make a room reservation with the click of a mouse button.

The service is free. The company makes money from the businesses that buy spots.

Workers at the Information MiniMall loaded the new products onto the Internet about 3 p.m. Nov. 17. At 10 p.m. a hacker tried to break into the system through the Internet, the system showed.

About 200 tries were made that night to crack an encrypted password.

On Nov. 21, somebody broke the code, stole copies of all the program’s files, erased the history files and logs, and left the “Kilroy” message.

The electronic break-in is different from just downloading information from the World Wide Web. It’s copying the actual databases and programs that run the index, the actual graphics and all the links in between.

Since the break-in, workers have heeded the hacker’s advice, trying to plug holes and work on security.

Besides calling police, workers also reported the theft to the Computer Emergency Response Team, an international agency that tracks computer and network security problems.

“I was angry that somebody would be that cheap,” said Stiley, frowning. “At the same time, I felt a little bit of a compliment because someone who was technically astute thought enough of it to go to the effort.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

MEMO: Staff writer Kim Barker can be reached by electronic mail at kimb@spokesman.com

This sidebar appeared with the story: ‘ROOTS & ROUTES’ The Information Mini-Mall’s new products - “Roots & Routes” and the “Inland Empire Business Directory” - can be found on the World Wide Web at www.imm.com

Staff writer Kim Barker can be reached by electronic mail at kimb@spokesman.com

This sidebar appeared with the story: ‘ROOTS & ROUTES’ The Information Mini-Mall’s new products - “Roots & Routes” and the “Inland Empire Business Directory” - can be found on the World Wide Web at www.imm.com



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