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Hackers taking toll on Web sites

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Businesses hanging out an Internet shingle don't like to make a big deal of it when their Web site gets hacked. But it happens.

Hackers break in to Web servers just to show they can. Crackers break in to steal money or information. Political activists, known as "hactivists," plant political messages or disrupt traffic."There is a problem getting good numbers. Financial institutions, health care -- they are not going to go public that they were hacked. If they did, people wouldn't give them their money," said Todd Neilson, applications sales engineer for US WEST.

In round numbers, the Web security problem cost businesses $6 billion last year, Neilson estimates. Most of that loss was not the result of corporate espionage or embezzlement but because of lost productivity from disruptions hackers caused, he said. "If your server is down for a week because you have to go in and fix a problem, that ends up costing a lot of money."

Promoting awareness and introducing businesses to some of its products and business partners are the motives behind a conference on Internet security US WEST hosted in Salt Lake City Thursday.

Neilson is on the circuit preaching Internet security in the major cities in US WEST's 14-state territory. He has a professional hacker in the act to demonstrate the ways Web security shortcomings are exploited.

"A firewall that is 99 percent secure is 100 percent vulnerable," Neilson said. The biggest problem is finding the technology talent to stay ahead of the hackers.

"The moral of the conference is: If you think that basic security is good enough, it really isn't. You really need someone who knows what they're talking about" engineering a commercial Web site.