John Weaver, operator of a Bethesda-based online lacrosse magazine, was among dozens of Web site operators who got a rude shock early yesterday when they found that a computer hacker had taken over their sites to post a bold message supporting Napster Inc., the online music file sharing company the recording industry wants shuttered.
It's the latest twist in one of the most closely watched issues involving the Internet: the fate of Napster.com and whether the courts will rule that sharing music files over the Internet is illegal. Millions of high school and college-aged music fans use the service and others like it to routinely swap music. Music industry representatives argue such services amount to piracy.
"I guess it can happen to the best of us, but it was still a big surprise," said Weaver of the attack on his site yesterday.
His site, e-lacrosse.com, was among several Maryland and Washington-based Web sites hit in the nationwide attack. By afternoon, Weaver and administrators at other Web sites reported they had restored their sites.
Other Maryland and Washington-based sites hit were those run by the Federal Maritime Commission and the Center for Defense Information.
There was no apparent rhyme or reason as to why the sites hit were selected. Some, such as the Chicago-based National Depressive & Manic-Depressive Association's site, receive heavy traffic each day. Others, such as the Web site for Ira School, a 60-student kindergarten through grade 12 public school in Ira, Texas, are rarely visited.
Yesterday, the FBI unit charged with investigating computer attacks, which can be a federal offense, declined comment.
The hacker posted as part of the pro-Napster message an e-mail address at America Online to write for more information.
But he said the company had received a complaint about Web site defacement from a Web site hosting service yesterday and had taken "appropriate action" against the account. The spokesman declined to say what that action entailed. The company can terminate an account. AOL also has a policy of cooperating with law enforcement agencies in hacker investigations.
Tracy Mlakar, a spokeswoman for San Mateo, Calif.-based Napster Inc., said the company had no role in the attack.