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August 09, 2011

Hackers See Rural Websites as Easy Prey, says Associated Press

By Ashok Bindra, TMCnet Contributor

Seeing rural America as easy target, Associated Press (News - Alert) reported that hackers from the group known as Anonymous have recently attacked small towns like Gassville, Ark. and Tishomingo County, Miss., where officers are usually not worried about international hackers.

This loosely-knit hacking group told AP reporters Nomaan Merchant and Raphael G. Satter that it has attacked 70 rural law enforcement websites in the United States in retaliation for the arrests of its sympathizers. According to AP’s report, some county sheriffs were aware of the attack, but some others learned about the problem when contacted by the AP reporters.

According to web security experts, these kind of cyber attacks indicate that no website is too small to avoid hacking, especially as more law enforcement agencies upload sensitive data about investigations, inmates and officers in general, wrote the reporters.

Speaking to AP reporters, Dick Mackey, vice president of consulting at Sudbury, Mass.-based SystemExperts, said, “It seems to me to be low-hanging fruit.” He added, “The smaller the organization, the more likely that they don't think of themselves as potential targets. They're not going to have the protections in place that a larger organization will have.”

Another security expert and former hacker Kevin Mitnick told the reporters that many of the sheriff's offices outsourced their websites to the same Mountain Home, Ark.-based media hosting company, Brooks-Jeffrey Marketing. “If Brooks-Jeffrey's defenses were breached, that would give hackers access to every website the company hosted,” Mitnick told AP. However, Brooks-Jeffrey declined to comment, the reporters wrote.

As per this report, the emails were mainly from sheriffs' offices in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri and Mississippi. Although, most of the leaked emails appeared to be benign, some of the stolen material seen by the AP carried sensitive information, including tips about suspected crimes, profiles of gang members and security training, wrote Merchant and Satter.

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Ashok Bindra is a veteran writer and editor with more than 25 years of editorial experience covering RF/wireless technologies, semiconductors and power electronics. To read more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Jennifer Russell
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