*Hackers Target International Sites

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Microsoft's New Zealand-based Web site yesterday became the latest victim of a group of online graffiti artists who are targeting the international Web pages of high-profile companies.

Instead of Microsoft's usual greeting page, visitors to www.microsoft.co.nz yesterday found a message from a hacker claiming to be affiliated with a group called Prime Suspectz. The defacement of the site was reported by Attrition.org, a Web site that collects, disseminates and distributes information about the computer security industry and claims it maintains the largest archive of Web site defacements.

According to Attrition, a hacker defeated the site's security around 2:45 a.m. EST on and replaced Microsoft's main page with his own page, which featured a rambling taunt written in broken English that was aimed at the site administrator. By 1 p.m. EST, the site had been repaired. A Microsoft spokeswoman said the defacement is under investigation.

The attack was the sixth against a Microsoft Web site recorded by Attrition. Other defacements have occurred against Microsoft sites in Brazil and Slovenia.

The attack on Microsoft's New Zealand site came a day after a Ford Motor Co. Web page, media.ford.com, was hit with the same defacement. The site was Ford's information and contact page for journalists.

In the past week, other hacker groups have targeted Canon Web sites in Greece and Turkey as well as Xerox's India Web page, www.xerox.co.in. An archive of the defaced pages is available at Attrition's site.

Since Attrition first recorded a Prime Suspectz defacement last October, hackers claiming affiliation with the group have defaced 134 Web pages. In November, the group, which in the past claimed to be located in Brazil, launched a campaign of defacements against 21 international Web pages of high-profile companies, including Nintendo's sites in Mexico, South Africa and Spain; eBay Taiwan; AT&T Italy; and Ericsson Taiwan.

Hackers responsible for the defacements may have chosen international targets to avoid prosecution in the United States, where investigators may be more inclined to investigate and prosecute computer crimes, said B.K. DeLong, a staff member at Attrition and research lead at ZOT Group, Boston, a Web business strategy consultancy. While hackers have different reasons for defacing Web sites, often they choose high-profile targets in an effort to attract more attention.

Campaigns, or intense but short bursts of hacker activity against a particular kind of Web site, are not uncommon, DeLong said. On Jan. 19, a hacker going by the moniker of "PentaGuard" defaced several government, political and military sites in the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States.

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