Health agency pulls 'podcasting' page after hacking

The Internet page for audio and video "podcasts" from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was hacked earlier this month, prompting the agency to pull it indefinitely and alert visitors that their computers may have been infected with a computer virus.

Currently, the page redirects visitors to a notice that says CDC staff discovered the hacking incident Feb. 1. As a precaution, the agency removed the page that same day. The notice adds: "[W]e anticipate the site will be down for the next few days. We are working to make sure that the podcast site is safe, and we will repost it in a few days."

The agency warned that public users who accessed CDC's site that day may have contracted a virus, so they should scan their computers for problems. At present, CDC has no evidence that sensitive information was compromised by the hacking incident.

Asked Tuesday about the hacking incident, CDC spokesman Thomas Skinner said: "There is not much to add at this time. CDC is continuing to work with the appropriate authorities to investigate, and we hope to have the site up and running ASAP."

The agency's podcasts had featured segments on various medical topics, such as "Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report" articles, scientific and cooperative training programs, and health guidelines.

Hacked sites can be altered to run malicious software, or "malware," to disrupt systems when people click on different portions of the site, according to Paul Proctor, a vice president at Gartner Research in the security and risk group.

"This malware may exploit vulnerabilities in the Web browser of the person doing the clicking and download all kinds of nasty stuff" like "botnets," software robots that control computers remotely, Proctor said. "Another possibility is that podcasts were replaced with malware executable [files], which users would download and click on with the intention of hearing a podcast but, instead, infect their machine."

If CDC has identified the type of malware, the agency should follow-up with more guidance on how the members of the public affected can address the specific viruses found, he added.

As to why someone may have been motivated to damage the podcast site, Proctor said the miscreants simply may have been looking for an ill-secured site.

"Attackers troll the Internet for vulnerable sites to infect," he said. "I can't see much targeted hacker interest in people listening to CDC podcasts. Their machines work as well as everyone else's to become soldiers in the increasing number of botnet armies, which are a very common threat today."

Proctor offered the typical reminder to download antivirus software and patches to fix holes in various programs.

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