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Looking For ET, [email protected] Nets Spam

[email protected] gets hacked.
Further confirmation that no good deed goes unpunished: Computer users around the globe who have volunteered their computers to help search for extraterrestrial intelligence are now having a Close Encounter of the Spam Kind. The alien hunters have all downloaded software called [email protected] as part of a massive distributed-computer project to look for deliberate radio signals from space.

"Someone found out how to reverse-engineer the [email protected] program to query their computers for some E-mails and was able to get away with some of them," a University of California-Berkeley spokesman says. "New Scientist" has reported that the hackers stole addresses from thousands of [email protected] users after learning how software on individual PCs communicates with the Berkeley, Calif., central servers.

The [email protected] site acknowledges the hacking with this message: "We have received a few reports from participants who have been sent E-mail that suggests that some [email protected] traffic has been intercepted on the Internet. We are actively looking into this and are taking it very seriously. If you have recently received E-mail that begins 'Dear [email protected] user', please forward this E-mail to [email protected]"

The hacking troubles at [email protected], which signed up its 3 millionth user earlier this month, have broader implications beyond the quest for ET. As distributed-computing projects continue to proliferate, [email protected]'s experience underscores the risks involved.