Blackmailers Behind Attack On Million-Dollar Site

The British college student who launched an ad gimmick on the Web that took in $1 million in a few months has received threatening letters from blackmailers apparently behind a

January 19, 2006

3 Min Read
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The British college student who launched an ad gimmick on the Web that took in $1 million in a few months has received threatening letters from blackmailers apparently behind a massive denial of service attack, a spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Alex Tew, creator of the Million Dollar Homepage, received a letter threatening to take the site down if Tew didn't pay $50,000, spokeswoman Imal Wagner confirmed.

The London-based Financial Times reported earlier on its Web site that the hacker, believed to be Russian, sent an email that read, "Hello u website is under us atack to stop the DDoS send us 50000$."

The email followed another threat Tew received Jan. 7 from an organization calling itself The Dark Group and demanding $5,000, Wagner confirmed. Tew believed it was a hoax and ignored the threat.

The FBI, which has declined comment, and London authorities have been notified, Wagner said.Tew drew international attention when his idea to sell a million pixels on his homepage for a $1 each to advertisers took off. Last week, an EBay Inc. auction for the last 1,000 pixels brought in $38,100, which brought the total amount of money raised to $1,037,100. Tew launched the gimmick in September to raise money for college expenses.

The attack began shortly after the EBay auction, escalating over the last several days and causing intermittent outages.

As of Wednesday, the site's server was being bombarded by 400 megabytes of "garbage data" per second, overwhelming the system and causing its performance to plummet, Russell Weiss, vice president of technical services for the hosting company, InfoRelay Online Systems Inc., said.

The attack stemmed from a network of more than 23,000 computers, called a botnet, that were infected with Trojans or other malicious software distributed over the Internet, Weiss said.

"We have engaged some of the industry's best intrusion prevention systems, and they have been incapable of stopping the attack," Weiss said. "We've had two systems that have failed miserably, and we'll be trying a third."None of InfoRelay's other customers have been affected, Weiss said. Part of the problem in battling the attack is Tew's limited budget. Large businesses spend as much as $100,000 in startup costs for top-of-the-line protection, with monthly management fees costing more than $50,000.

"We're doing our best to work with Alex," Weiss said, noting that he hopes to have the site stabilized in a few days.

Tew has promised to keep the site up for five years. Although he attended university last fall, he recently said he would take the rest of the year off to "organize my life, consolidate my financial position, and explore some of the new opportunities that have presented themselves."

While security costs have risen for Tew, he is not in danger of running out of money, and no advertisers have demanded their money back, Wagner said.

"He will not pay this under any circumstances," Wagner said. "(And) he's definitely prepared to keep the site open and to try every remedy possible."Tew's success in launching the Million Dollar Homepage has led to many copycats launching their own pixel-selling businesses that range from Ponzi-style get-rich-quick schemes to clever knockoffs promoting real estate.

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