San Francisco — Speculations were rampant during the course of the week, as discussion groups, security newsletters and even headlines jumped at what appeared to be another high-profile hack targetting Redmond based software giant, Microsoft.
Well, there may have been a hack – but Microsoft wasn’t the victim.
It began with a trickle of commentary, but by the end of the week, thousands of internet users were firmly convinced that the very foundation of the internet domain name system had been compromised by, as one news outlet put it “terrorist hackers”.
The reason? Internet-savvy searchers looking up the registration information for Microsoft.com were greeted with the message “MICROSOFT.COM.IS.SECRETLY.RUN.BY.ILLUMINATI.TERRORISTS.NET” – rather unexpected, and certainly amusing – but somewhere between amusement and surprise one important detail was neglected.
What the heck does “terrorists.net” have to do with Microsoft?
The answer, of course, is nothing. A cursory inspection reveals that the whois search has returned multiple records matching the text string “microsoft.com”, and would like the user to choose between them. Through vagaries of the operations of the domain name system, a record fully unrelated to Microsoft was coming back in the search results, merely because it contained a phrase relevant to the search. This is, after all, the nature of most searches.
But then, this is exactly what was intended. According to Adrian Lamo, owner of the terrorists.net domain, “We wanted to cause a bit of amusement. . .we thought it would be something ironic, yet mostly trivial. We figured some people would think it was a hack, and we’d end up with the last laugh, since human nature was the only vulnerability really being exploited.”
A few sheepish security sites quickly downplayed the incident, discussion on the net slowed back to a trickle, and Microsoft seemed to hope that ignoring the whole issue was the best course of action. No glaring new security holes had really been revealed – but at least a few people would be more careful about believing everything they saw on the net – perhaps a more useful lesson than a whole gaggle of IIS bug advisories.