|Hackers compete to deface sites |
Data could go missing this weekend
Security experts are playing down the likely effect of a hacking contest due to take place on Sunday.
The 6 July contest aims to see 6,000 websites defaced in six hours and will award points to hackers for the types of sites they manage to vandalise.
The US Department of Homeland Security said there was no need to put out a public warning about the competition but said all companies should be vigilant.
Security firm Ubizen said the contest was being overblown and was unlikely to cause serious disruption.
Hacking contests occur all the time and typically goad computer vandals into stealing or destroying data, defacing websites or launching remote attacks on other sites.
The rules the competition have been posted on a website called defacers-challenge.com.
Zone-H, a site that records website defacements, said the number of attacks on sites were declining in the run-up to the weekend, suggesting that many people were seeking out fresh targets before the day of the competition.
There are probably millions of small, unprotected websites out there that are easier targets to hit, so the major banks in the world really don't need to worry
Bart Vansevenant, Ubizen
The competition will award points to defacers based on the operating system running the site being vandalised. The supposed prize for the winner is 500 megabytes of webspace.
Zone-H said it expected more than 20,000 attacks to take place on Sunday.
Some malicious hackers may already have a backdoor into many internet sites and may wait for an opportunity, like the competition, to exploit these loopholes.
However, the US Department of Homeland Security said the threat was not serious and it saw no reason to issue a public warning.
"Hacker contests are relatively common, so I'm a little mystified why this is receiving so much attention," said a Homeland spokesman.
Its advice to firms to be vigilant was echoed by other security firms who told companies to patch websites, check for backdoor vulnerabilities, close unwanted ports and look for well-known flaws in popular software packages they use.
Companies that own or run lots of different websites are thought to be most at risk of receiving attention from any hackers participating in the contest.
Security firm Ubizen, which manages network security for many companies, said reports about the danger that the competition posed were overblown.
Bart Vansevenant, Ubizen's director of International Security Strategies, said the contest was a "storm in a teacup".
He said if the contest had any victims they were likely to be small companies.
"There are probably millions of small, unprotected websites out there that are easier targets to hit," he said, "so the major banks in the world really don't need to worry."