The Web is a hacker's playground

I don't scare easily. But I've been terrified twice in the past year. The first time it happened was while I watched The Blair Witch Project at a local theater. The second time was during a demonstration of a new software product. Now, I've seen a million software demos, and in the vast majority of these my biggest fear is that I'll fall asleep. This time, though, I found myself perched on the edge of my seat. Eran Reshef, cofounder and vice president of Perfecto Technologies, was showing me why he thinks the world needs his company's product, a security package (priced at upward of $50,000) that is designed to protect Web sites from hacker attacks.

As I sat there watching, Reshef demonstrated how he could transform just about any Web site into his own personal playground. And though Reshef and most of his technical staff are former members of an elite technical unit in the Israeli Army, he denied that he possesses the hacking talents of a once-in-an-eon technical genius. In fact, Reshef was careful to characterize his skills as fairly common. He said that practically anyone who can put up a Web site--and has a burglar's moral code--can take a site down. Those same skills can be used (and this is when I really got frightened) to plunder a site for confidential information about its users.

I don't want to alert any hackers out there to security holes that are waiting to be breached. So I won't mention the names of the Web sites I saw Reshef gain access to­-but they're ones you know, maybe even ones you do business with. Reshef would spend 15 minutes or so editing HTML code and performing other technical tricks...and then I'd see the names and passwords of a site's programmers scroll across his computer screen.

He dropped items into his shopping cart at various e-commerce sites, including the online home of a major computer vendor, and then changed their prices at will. He also downloaded customer information from an airline's frequent-flyer site, and he described to me how he was able to make trades from the account of the CIO of a large online brokerage firm--while the CIO looked on.

"This is bad," Reshef announced at one point in his demonstration for me. "The game is over--I can do anything I want [at this site] right now." Gulp.

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