Members of the Keebler Elves, a cybergang that hacked the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration's Storm Prediction Center site last week, disagree. "Defacing a site to me is showing the admins, government [and others] that go to the site that we own them," wrote "soupnazi," one of the founding members of the Keebler Elves, in a chat with ZDNN. "They wouldn't even know we were in [their systems], if we didn't deface [them]. " Only when they want to send a message do they deface a page, soupnazi said. "I've told the Keebler members that I'm not a big fan of defacing pages," he said. "I'd rather have root [complete access] to someone's account."
Another hacker, who claims responsibility for the Army.mil defacement, also defended the tactic. "Messages can be gotten across, if you hit the right machines," said "t1edown" in a chat with ZDNN.
The hacker theorises that the seeming increase in defacements is partially due to media coverage, which he thinks makes more kids want to learn to hack. But he also thinks that gaping security holes are part of the problem. For example, the Army.mil attack came through a known hole in the security of a Web server tool, Allaire Corp.'s ColdFusion. Though a patch is available, and L0pht says it informed the Army of the weakness in its security, the Army failed to update all its servers.
But not everyone thinks Web defacement is necessarily bad.
Alex Fowler, director of strategic initiatives at the cyber-rights organisation Electronic Frontier Foundation, does not advocate hacking, but stresses that there can be valid reasons for graffiti. Fowler paraphrased an African-American woman who attended a recent EFF panel on public spaces in cyberspace, saying, "Graffiti is about a space for the disenfranchised to cry out and inform those around them, even when anonymity has been forced upon them."
He added that graffiti -- cyber and otherwise -- is visible to those who may not agree with the sentiments involved, unlike a Web page. "Building AOLsux.com only preaches to the choir," he said. "You are not actually talking to the people who like AOL or the ones that have not thought about the issue."
Slashdot's Katz believes there is no danger in the defacements, and hardly any reason for media coverage. In fact, he blames journalists for confusing vandals with hackers, and turning them into Orwellian villains. "Ever since the end of the Cold War, law enforcement and the media have been short of bad guys," he said.
"The people that the media calls hackers have done very little damage to the Net," he said. "They are kids that like to show anonymous power. To make them into a serious menace, a danger to society, is ludicrous."