A hacking contest that will award points for breaking into web servers and scrawling digital graffiti over commercial web pages could disrupt normal internet traffic, according to a computer security firm.
The contest is scheduled to take place on Sunday 6 July, says US company Internet Security Systems (ISS), with points being awarded for each individual web site that is defaced.
Bonus points will be given for cracking sites that run on software and hardware with a better security record. First prize will be awarded to the hacker or hacking group that scores most points while attacking a maximum of 6000 sites.
Gunter Ollman, a UK consultant for ISS says preparations for the event appear to be underway. "There's been a lull in public defacements but a massive increase in pre-attack scanning," he told New Scientist. There are many of these contests, he adds, but this one has generated an unusually great amount of interest.
Zone-h, a web site that keeps track of defacements, has also seen a drop in reports in recent days. This could mean crackers are waiting until 6 July to deface sites that they have already compromised.
Ollman says during contests of this type groups will sometimes try to block competitors' access to key network resources, which can have a knock-on impact on ordinary internet users. An alert issued ISS's X-Force research team says: "Due to the large scope of the contest, normal internet activity could be disrupted."
Site defacements are normally carried out by less technically skilled individuals using tools developed by more proficient hackers. The culprits are often referred to as "script kiddies". Some tools automate the process of breaking into a site and defacing it, making it possible to perform many simultaneous defacements.
Peter Sommer, a computer security expert at the London School of Economics, told New Scientist: "Defacing is relatively easy to do unless the people who manage the web site take proper precautions." He adds that the widespread attention the contest has attracted could make it more popular: "It may become self fulfilling."