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FBI Raid Fails to Deter Cracker; ‘Global Hell’ Continues Attacks

By Roberto Suro

Most mischievous teen-agers would be intimidated if FBI agents showed up armed with a search warrant, asked a lot of hard questions and then seized all the computer equipment in sight. But Chad Davis just got angry, according to federal officials.

Less than four weeks after the FBI searched the apartment where Davis, 19, lives alone in Green Bay, Wis., he defiantly cracked a U.S. Army computer at the Pentagon, according to a federal complaint filed against him when he was arrested Monday.

During the June 2 search, Davis admitted that he belonged to a notorious cracking gang that calls itself “Global Hell,” and the FBI agents let him know they were cracking down on the group. On June 28, Davis allegedly struck back: he replaced the Army’s Internet home page with the message: “Global Hell is alive. Global Hell will not die.”

Court papers depict Davis as one of the founders and leaders of the gang, which allegedly has made repeated computers intrusions into computer systems at the White House, the FBI and numerous other government offices. In addition, he allegedly assisted in the cracking of some 17 corporate and private web sites, and may have helped himself to two years’ worth of free access to the Internet through a local provider in Green Bay.

Davis is the only person yet arrested in a nationwide investigation of Global Hell that has been under way for several months and has turned up more than a dozen other suspects. Although investigators suggest that more arrests may be coming, his apprehension shows the difficulty of tracking down computer criminals -- even those, like Davis, who are relatively brazen and unskilled, according to federal law enforcement officials and computer security experts.

“It is not that these are super whiz kids; it is the technology that gives them the ability to cover their tracks enough that you can have a hard time making a criminal case against them,” said a senior federal investigator.

In the case of Global Hell, the crackers made a point of calling attention to themselves.

“They are into bragging rights,” said Drew Williams, a specialist on computer intrusions with AXENT Technologies, an information security firm based in Rockville, Md. “They are vandals who are into it for the sense of chaos.”

On May 9, Global Hell went right to the top and defaced the White House web site with off-color messages. Within weeks, the FBI launched raids in at least 11 cities that involved searches and questioning of suspected members of Global Hell, but no arrests. Several of the individuals targeted were minors, investigators noted.

As the raids were still unfolding, Global Hell retaliated with an unprecedented attack against the FBI Web site, flooding it with thousands of simultaneous “hits,” or requests for access, on the night of May 26. The FBI was forced to shut down the site rather than risk damage to the computer server. Over the next week, members of Global Hell also attacked web sites maintained by the Department of Interior, the Senate and even the state of Virginia.

On June 2 FBI agents arrived at the apartment, search warrant in hand. Davis admitted that he was a member of Global Hell and even that he had hacked into a number of non-government web sites.