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ZDNet's eWeek has announced a capture-the-flag challenge to crackers called Openhack, inviting all comers to compromise a system set up for demonstration purposes and win cash prizes "ranging from $500 for defacing the Web server to $1500 for compromising the e-mail server, to $2500 for cracking into the database server," the organisers say.

The project is set to run from 26 June until mid-July, or until all the prize money has been awarded.

However, as early as 27 June the Openhack server was unavailable throughout much of the day.

"Openhack data will help e-businesses develop the appropriate balance of Net security [and] openness. eWeek Labs' Openhack project is designed to help e-businesses make this process work better in complex, heterogeneous computing environments," eWeek says.

Other interpretations exist. The hacking underground, for example, sees this sort of thing as part reconnaissance, and part publicity stunt, and one in which no truly elite cracker would participate for fear of having their best tricks analysed and rendered ineffective.

Script Kiddies will of course hammer away at the box ruthlessly, as Tuesday's downtime illustrates. For a wannabe, capturing eWeek's flag has considerable appeal. Most are delighted to accept media attention far in excess of any real skills they might have to justify it.

But the Openhack project is unlikely to attract the sort of participant whose intrusions could prove most instructive. "We must receive details on how successful hacks were carried out (including any code used) before awarding prize money," eWeek says.

Precisely why the best crackers won't touch that box with a ten-foot pole. ®

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