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Govt. Blocking Legit Katrina Donation Site?

Just received a call from a reader at a U.S. government agency who reported that internal Web filtering software installed at his office was blocking access to www.hurricanehousing.org, a legitimate Web site where people left homeless by Hurricane Katrina can find a temporary place to stay.

The site is sponsored almost exclusively by a slew of organizations that support Democratic political candidates, including Moveon.org, TrueMajority.org, the NAACP, among others. But politics doesn't seem to be the issue.  The filtering software at this government organization blocked the site, apparently because it thought something about the site was related to "criminal skills and/or phishing."

The guy who called said he alerted the tech folks at his office to pass the word on to the company that provides the agency's filtering service. He asked us to leave his name and the name of the agency out of this blog post. He also didn't know what company produced the agency's filtering software. I wonder if one company has a lock on a government-wide contract. If anyone else is having trouble with filters blocking legitimate Katrina-related sites, drop me a line.

Over the past week I have spent a great deal of time searching for and raising alarm bells over Katrina-related phishing scam sites and virus attacks. I sure hope this filtering mishap is just an example of a technology that needs a little more human intelligence behind it and not an intentional blockage, as HurricaneHousing.org appears to be doing good work; as of this writing, the site says it has 158,034 beds offered so far.

Over at the SANS Internet Storm Center, chief technology officer Johannes Ullrich has put up an interesting graph that charts the spike in Katrina-related Web address registrations in the days leading up to and those following the storm's landfall.

By Brian Krebs  |  September 6, 2005; 12:04 PM ET
 
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Comments

Just tried accessing hurricanehousing.org from a major national lab, and no problems.

Posted by: Tina the Tech Writer | September 6, 2005 12:51 PM | Report abuse

No problems from the Navy NMCI system

Posted by: Dude | September 6, 2005 1:18 PM | Report abuse

Just received this email from someone in a branch of the military who asked to remain anonymous:

"Immediately after reading your article I clicked on the link you provided in the article and access was automatically blocked. Please don't use my name or agency for fear of reprisals."

Posted by: Brian Krebs | September 6, 2005 1:34 PM | Report abuse

The government widely uses a product called WebSense, which is very good overall. When a site is blocked, a message pops up on the screen that advises the computer user that if they think the site should be allowed to contact the WebSense administrator to have the rule reviewed. Not necessarily some right-wing conspiracy. I was also blocked from www.nfl.com during the super bowl. This was because of a rule applied against streaming video.

Posted by: D Bell | September 6, 2005 2:49 PM | Report abuse

I just got another e-mail from a person at a private company that filters its employees' Web access:

"Hi Brian,

I can't reach it from my company. I believe we use http://www.bluecoat.com/, but I'm not sure how exactly the policy is set.

Thanks for the article,
[name omitted at senders request]"

Posted by: Brian Krebs | September 6, 2005 3:57 PM | Report abuse

Follow up to my previous: I work at European Command and the site is not blocked.

Posted by: D Bell | September 6, 2005 4:07 PM | Report abuse

Are organizations like MoveOn.Org blocked from gov't computers? It would seem like an oversight if gov't employees can access MoveOn.Org bot not the hurricane donation site.

Posted by: Zethon | September 6, 2005 5:12 PM | Report abuse

A couple of points - I work in the IT department for a federal government agency - there is not one company that has a government-wide contract. Or if there is, no one told us about it. Also the software is doing the blocking not the gov't. With the millions of web sites out there, even the best software is going to report false positives - i.e., legitimate web sites that fit the profile the software is looking for, but are not necessarily malicious sites. I don't think anyone has the time to look up the registration of every web site to add their own political slant to what is blocked or not. Usually standard practice would be if a legit site is blocked, a person could just request that it be allowed. If someone really wanted to do block a certain site using software, it is possible to do it without notifying the end-users that a web monitoring program was doing it.

Posted by: IT guy | September 6, 2005 6:15 PM | Report abuse

I received an email from someone at the Dept. of Veterans Affairs who complained that internal Web filters were blocking another high-profile Katrina-donation site:

"The VA's webfilter blocks Google's online donation site. It says classified as an auction."

Posted by: Brian Krebs | September 6, 2005 10:07 PM | Report abuse

So many emails from people who want to remain anonymouse. Got an e-mail from someone at General Dynamics (a defense industry contractor) who could not reach the site because of Web filters:

"I read your column in the Post, I work on a government project, however I am in a General Dynamics (GD) building on GD computers and GD network, and they are blocking access to www.hurricanehousing.org , not sure why when you can get to tons of other stuff, including moveon.org."

Posted by: Brian Krebs | September 6, 2005 11:03 PM | Report abuse

Yet another Security Fix reader from the Dept. of Veterans Affairs wrote in to say:

I just tried in a minute ago (6:35 pm) at the Department of Veterans Affairs, and it was similarly blocked.

By the way, I once tried Simon Wiesenthal's web site, and that was blocked also!

Posted by: Brian Krebs | September 7, 2005 9:24 AM | Report abuse

works over here at Labor

Posted by: Sendai | September 7, 2005 12:43 PM | Report abuse

I just thought I would drop a line and let you know a little bit about what kind of stuff may be blocked from a govt agency. I work for the Federal Govt in Canada, as a security specialist. The average user does not see the whole picture often. A number of legitimate sites are blocked at our firewall frequently due to some it's content. It is not because the content is unethical or immoral but often because of vulnerabilities which may be presented by the code content. For example, Java scripts have been known, from time-to-time, to present a higher risk than normal until system patching can be performed. As a result sites which use Java scripts may be restricted for a period. When this type of thing is reported it is well worth considering all the possibilities before pointing fingers or putting forth conspiracy theories, however possible they may be.

Have a great day.

Posted by: Bill Eh | September 7, 2005 2:59 PM | Report abuse


You government IT people better get back to work and stop spending time on the internet.

Posted by: GAO | September 7, 2005 3:01 PM | Report abuse

I just clicked www.hurricanehousing.org and got linded to a *beautiful* website, no problems. Could it be that I'm a private user, that doesn't work for the government?

Posted by: jnhxxx | September 7, 2005 3:28 PM | Report abuse

You are the best! Im glad...

Posted by: PANASONIC | April 20, 2006 11:54 PM | Report abuse

Esli Vy chitaete eto soobshenie znachit vasha gostevaya, forum ili blog popali v spamerskii spisok rassylok. Chtoby udalit' svoi resurs iz etogo spiska prishlite ego url na email: antyspam@bk.ru Eto v vashih zhe interesah. Vse eshe mozhno popravit'. Nam nuzhny tol'ko zabroshennye resursy. Esli vash eshe razvivaetsya - my ostavim ego v pokoe.

Posted by: AntySPAM | June 16, 2006 7:32 AM | Report abuse

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