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Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Thursday 6/10/2005Been around the Web a bit? Know your HTTP from your index.

Thursday 6/10/2005

Been around the Web a bit? Know your HTTP from your index.html? Got into the habit of editing a URL to quickly navigate around a site, or dig out data that's not conveniently linked? Be careful — you might end up in front of the beak.

That's one of the lessons from today's rather chilling denouement to the sad business of Dan Cuthbert, who was found guilty of breaching the Computer Misuse Act and attempting to get access to a Web site set up to accept payment for the tsunami relief effort. Sounds the worst sort of greed, doesn't it — except that he'd just made a £30 payment and, not getting a proper response, wondered if the site was entirely legit. Being a professional computer security chap, he decided to check by using an old trick — if you append ../../../ to a URL, you can end up a few directories higher and sometimes reveal the true name of a Web site.

But don't try this at home. That single act triggered an intruder alarm on the Web server, and some time later Cuthbert found himself talking to the boys in blue. He did himself no favours — as you can read in our coverage of what happened — but on being found guilty has helped to set case law that says that provided you know what you're doing then this single act is enough to get you a criminal record no matter what your motives or the harm — if any — done. It's not quite at the point where the only legal way to access the Web is by following the links, but it's certainly pointing the way there. It also raises questions about other tools — is ping now illegal if used without authorisation? Netstat? Traceroute?

There is one small moment of light relief in this story. Our own silver-haired lothario Colin Barker was covering the story from the courtroom, and once it was all over made his way outside to phone in the report. He dialled the office as he waited for the lift, and made contact just as it arrived. "Hello Col," said Graeme 'Not Too Cool To Scoop' Wearden, "What happened". Before Colin could answer, the doors to the lift closed and the robot within cleared its throat. "Going down..." it said.