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Local Web sites attacked

Radio station, blog overwhelmed by Russian-originated traffic

Posted: September 12, 2009 6:52 p.m.
Updated: September 13, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
The threat of cyber attack became an uncomfortable reality for one local news organization recently, when an overwhelming barrage of Russian-originated traffic crashed its Web site.

It was the weekend of Aug. 21 when KHTS 1220-AM switched its servers to handle a bigger load, station co-owner Carl Goldman said.

At the same time, the site began having problems loading, and by early the next week, he said, hometownstation.com was all but crippled.

"At one point, there were about 20 different servers attacking at the same time," Goldman said.

He likened it to 20 people trying to fit through one door at the same time.

The upside, he said, was that the damage done was not long-lasting.

"All they were able to do was ring the doorbell enough to shut us down," he said, adding KHTS' site was only targeted because of its size.

When Goldman and his staff started investigating, they found the influx of Web traffic had originated in Russia, which he said prompted him to contact officials from the U.S. State Department.

However, Goldman said there's little recourse for Web attacks on private entities.

"Unless they're attacking government Web sites, (authorities) can't take action," he said.

Newhall resident and avid blogger Jeff Wilson, who has maintained the site scvtalk.com for the last several years, had his own run-in days later.

Wilson's Web site was crippled by a massive influx of traffic he reportedly also traced back to Russia.

Homeland Security officials did not respond by Friday afternoon to inquiries about present cyber-security threats.

On the home front, the Department of Homeland Security maintains a national cyber-security division.

The two overarching objectives of that division are maintaining an effective cyberspace response system and implementing a cyber-risk management program to protect infrastructure, according to the Homeland Security Web site.

Starting in 2006, the department conducts Cyber Storm every two years, a drill that involves both the public and private sectors.

On the local level, the Admiral Group, headed by Jim Chaffee and Larry Jorgenson, is standing on the virtual wall when it comes to cyber-security.

Chaffee is a former police chief, head of security for the Disney Corp., Fox Studios and Kodak Theater. Jorgenson spent nearly 20 years as head of security for Pinkerton.

Chaffee sits on a Homeland Security committee helping oversee some of the nation's most sensitive security issues and Jorgenson works through private contracts with the U.S. military and high-level professional athletes.

Chaffee said Santa Clarita businesses can be directly affected by the nation's enemies overseas.

A cyber attack security breach presents every computer user on the globe possible interaction with spies and terrorists.

"Up here in the valley, a security concern in a business would be someone infiltrating their computer to get their processes of doing things," Chaffee said.

On July 4, the Associated Press reported a major "denial of services" cyber-attack on several major U.S. Web sites, including the White House, the Pentagon and the New York Stock Exchange.

Hackers extracted files from computers they contaminated with the virus that triggered the attack, the AP reported.

Last June, a hacker breached a San Diego medical center's database of patients' health records, forcing administrators to inform 30,000 patients their identification and medical records were compromised, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

And the Wall Street Journal reported last June that the electricity industry is scanning its grid after learning Russian and Chinese spies quite possibly infiltrated the system last April.

"Santa Clarita does not have any major issues regarding cyber-terrorism at this point," Chaffee said. "Only to the extent that they are the victims of collateral damage to other cyber-terrorism acts."

Santa Clarita Valley Business Journal Editor Michele Lovato contributed to this report.

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