Somebody out there sure doesn’t like what the Utah Association of Counties is saying on the Internet.

During the wee hours of the morning of July 9, in a pre-emptive first-strike in cyberspace, someone accessed the association’s controversial web page – — downloading and erasing all files and replacing them with Scandinavian words and gibberish.

“We have the dubious distinction of being the first casualty of eco-terrorists hacking into a website,” said UAC’s webmaster Sheldon Kinsel in a phone interview.

The site contains numerous files with approximately 100,000 words of text dealing with the protection of the public right-of-way across federally managed land. The name is a reference to Revised Statutes 2477, the section of the federal code where the law on public access is found.

The wipeout was only temporarily successful, however. “As soon as we discovered what had been done, the site was promptly restored and back up again within hours,” said Kinsel.

Who would do such a thing?

“We have no way of knowing at this point,” Kinsel said. “Whoever did it even emptied the logs showing who visited the site — including themselves. It was no amateur job.” Moreover, he added, “It could have been done by anyone in the world since the web is so seamless.”

Attention could focus, however, on the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), the environmental group most active in urging President Clinton to create the 1.7 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which he did by executive order last September, and which in its literature stridently proclaims opposition to road building, any mechanized transport, logging, mining, “and similar commercial interests” in wilderness areas — even powerlines, “except when the president specifically authorizes them in the national interest.” SUWA would like to see the wilderness area in Utah expanded to at least 5.7 million acres.

Contacted by telephone, UAC Associate Director Mark Walsh stated he is reluctant to single out the environmental group. “I can’t say SUWA was responsible,” he told WorldNetDaily, “But we suspect members of the environmental community, including SUWA.”

However, Walsh noted the Internet vandalism had occurred within a month after UAC had launched a well-publicized campaign called SUWA Watch, to challenge the “unlimited access SUWA has had to policymakers.”

“By definition, wilderness areas are roadless,” Walsh explained, “and the issues of wilderness and land use in federal areas cannot be resolved until the road issue is resolved,” he said. “We take apart the statements SUWA makes –sentence by sentence — to show the errors and deliberate misstatements. We make an effort on our website to show that the issues of wilderness, roads and right-of-way are not as simple as SUWA makes out.”

SUWA spokesman Scott Groene categorically denied SUWA involvement in the cyberattack. “Someone should check the drinking water at the UAC office,” he told the Salt Lake Tribune.

The UAC has formally requested the FBI’s International Computer Crimes Unit to investigate the case, and is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever hacked and trashed the website.

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