The Million Dollar Homepage, an ad gimmick that brought more than $1 million to its 21-year-old creator, was under a massive denial-of-service attack Friday, the website's hosting company said.
The site that was the brainstorm of British college student Alex Tew was unreachable for much of the day Thursday, as 10s of thousands of computers controlled by an unknown group or person overwhelmed the site's servers with requests. The site was up Friday due to the voluntary efforts of the hosting company, InfoRelay Online Systems Inc.
Tew drew international attention when his September idea to sell a million pixels on his homepage for a $1 each to advertisers took off. Earlier this week, an EBay Inc. auction for the last 1,000 pixels brought in $38,100, which brought the total amount of money raised to $1,037,100.
The attack stemmed from a network of computers, called a botnet, that were infected with Trojans or other malicious software distributed over the Internet, Russell Weiss, vice president of technical services for InfoRelay, said.
The attack started Wednesday night, growing by early Thursday into a zombie army of possibly as many as 100,000 computers from all over the world, Weiss said.
"Whoever is doing this has taken a no-holds-barred approach," Weiss said. "It looks like it could be 100,000 computers, but it's difficult to tell. It's definitely in the 10s of thousands."
The attack grew in severity Friday, but the site remained up due to voluntary efforts on the part of InfoRelay, which has notified the FBI.
"I'm not going to say there won't be future problems, but we have taken some steps to reduce the affect," Weiss said.
Tew was not immediately available for comment, but his spokeswoman said she did not know whether a person or group threatening such an attack had contacted him, a tactic common among extortionists. Tew, however, had thousands of email that had not yet been open.
"I can't imagine who would do this," Imal Wagner said. "He's such a nice guy."
Weiss did not know where the attack originated, or whether it was part of an extortion scheme. Tew had been notified.
"We are working with the FBI on getting more information on this, so they can pursue it legally," Weiss said.
Tew's contract with InfoRelay did not include services for fighting off denial-of-service attacks, so at some point, he may have to spend more money to keep the site up, Weiss said. For now, however, as long as companies paying for the service weren't affected, InfoRelay would continue to do what it can. Large organizations pay as much as $100,000 a month for full protection against such attacks.
"We're willing to put in a reasonable amount of hours to try and stop this, and give the FBI as much information as possible," Weiss said.
Tew, who launched the site to pay his college expenses, has promised to keep the site up for five years. Although he attended university last fall, he recently said he would take the rest of the year off to "organize my life, consolidate my financial position, and explore some of the new opportunities that have presented themselves."
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