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A site has been created that will allow network administrators or tech-savvy users to exchange information on crackers who are trying to break into other people's computers.

It is hoped the site Dshief.org, which provides a free service that allows users of firewalls to share information, will act as a kind of neighbourhood watch for the Net by identifying the Internet's more shady and disreputable characters.

Anyone who has placed a personal firewall on their home PC will know how often their computers are probed - without any help, users might come to feel besieged by crackers and script kiddies.

A very small percentage of computers might be vulnerable to a particular exploit, but by scanning many PCs, attackers can find a host of machines that are poorly configured or are open to the exploit of a particular flaw.

The current vogue for crackers to place software on a victim's machine in order to turn them into zombie agents from which denial of service attacks can be mounted, is only making matters worse. Several of the denial-of-service attacks that crippled major Internet sites in February, including eBay and Yahoo, were found to have been launched from the compromised machines of home users or academic institutions.

However users often find that reporting incidents of attempted hacking to ISPs is met by a wall of silence, and little gets done about the problem.

Tired of feeling powerless, webmaster Johannes Ullrich created Dshield.org. The site, which is only two weeks old, aims to pinpoint the Internet addresses from which crackers launch attacks.

By comparing hundreds of logs of Internet addresses attempting to connect to particular ports of a computer, it is possible to identify patterns of suspicious behaviour from legitimate activity - such as a web server checker to see if a user is still online. By correlating information it would be possible to identifying anyone who is attempting to prize open the doors of a variety of Internet addresses.

It is hoped this data can then be used to protect networks from intrusion attempts.

The site is still in its infancy so its not sure whether the system of voluntary reporting will scale, nor how reliable the data obtained will be - particularly because no attempt is made to authenticate user submissions. That said the site represents a welcome attempt to raise security awareness. If nothing else the distributed denial of service attacks this year showed that security on the internet needs to become a community effort, or else everyone is at risk. ®

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