Harvard Shuts Down Allegedly Indecent WebsiteBy Frank Dabek
EDITOR IN CHIEF
Harvard University became embroiled in a conflict between members of the Net’s hacking community last week when it shutdown the Packet Storm website it had agreed to host.
The site, which provided security information and tools, was shutdown after a letter from John P. Vranesevich, founder of the AntiOnline website, alerted Harvard to a directory on the site which contained materials he classified as libelous and “sick.”
A Harvard news release blamed the shutdown on “sexually related material and personal attacks on an individual not associated with the University.”
Vranesevich said that while he was “used to seeing parodies of my website [and]... criticism of myself,” the jp directory contained on packetstorm.harvard.edu unacceptable content including images of his 17 year old sister along with her home address and phone number. Vranesevich said that his sister had been harassed as a result of the picture. “A lot of the people who visit [sites like packetstorm] commit felonies on a daily basis,” he said. Vranesevich and his company have also been harassed following the shutdown, he said.
Ken Williams, the maintainer of Packet Storm, denied allegations that he harassed Vranesevich and said that all of the material in the directory (which was never publicly linked) was available elsewhere on the web. “I never crossed the line,” he said. “What was on my site was already on the web,” said Williams. The directory, he said, was merely an archive of existing parodies.
Williams said that the picture of Vranesevich’s sister was taken from the website of her high school, which had published its yearbooks on the web.
In his letter to Harvard, published on AntiOnline, Vranesevich also alleged that the site contained pictures of “people engaged in homosexual activities” and “a nun that appears to be covered in seminal fluid.”
Williams denied these allegations. There were “no pornographic pictures or sexually explicit pictures” in the directory, he said. There was an image of a nun portrayed as the victim of legislation limiting speech on the Internet, but the image was not sexual, he said.
Although Williams claims the content of the site was already public material, Vranesevich said that “any claim for freedom of speech is only an attempt to cover [William’s] actions.” Vranesevich also said that he has no intent to sue Williams despite William’s initial belief that he was a potential target of legal action.
Site to return elsewhere
Although Williams said that Harvard initially told him that the four gigabytes of data on his site would be destroyed, he recently received a hard drive from Harvard containing the data.
“The site will be back up,” he said. He has received over 200 offers to host the site.
The shutdown of Packet Storm was a topic for debate in numerous online forums, such as slashdot.org, hackernews.com and attrition.org.
The discussions reveal an on-going dispute between Vranesevich and many in the online community including Williams.
Williams described Vranesevich as “a real charlatan... out to make a buck for himself.” He said that Vranesevich encouraged people to deface websites so that they could report their actions on AntiOnline.
Williams also pointed out that Vranesevich waited until the site moved to Harvard to complain about the jp directory which had existed for over a year. The site was online at Harvard for only 9 days before it was shut down.
Vranesevich said that the hacker community has incorrectly represented Williams. “Hackers have been trying to play him off as this poor student,” Vranesevich said, alluding to Williams claims that he would fail a class if he lost the data on packetstorm.harvard.edu.
Of the experience, Williams said that he is “confident that the truth will come out... I hope that justice is served.” He said his reputation has been damaged by the incident, but also said, “My actions over the years are a good reflection on me.”
For his part in the dispute Vranesevich said that the situation was “handled properly” by Harvard but was perhaps “blown out of proportion.”