While the FBI and other investigators search for the culprits of this week's cyber-attacks against popular Web sites such as Yahoo and eBay, legions of computer enthusiasts, armchair gumshoes, hackers and conspiracy theorists are having no trouble proposing leads of their own.
Suspects ranging from Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates to Attorney General Janet Reno are named in various Web chat rooms and discussion groups as potential -- if unlikely -- perpetrators of one of the most coordinated and disruptive hacks the Web has ever seen.
So is Kevin Mitnick, the notorious hacker who went to prison for stealing millions of dollars in software from computer and cellular phone companies in the early 1990s. Mitnick's five years behind bars came to an end last month, although he is forbidden from using computers and other high-tech devices for three years.
One of the most widespread theories is that a handful of ''kids'' launched the attack just to see if they could pull it off. Some speculators went into great detail describing the possible culprits, right down to their pimply faces, blaring music and pocket protectors.
''How do I know so much about these people?'' wrote one person using the nickname ''BT'' on CNN.com. ''I used to be one.''
Another common belief is that the attacks were launched by computer security experts in an attempt to drum up demand for their services. (Shares of computer security companies such as VeriSign and Check Point Software Technologies spiked up during the week, although they gave back some of those gains Friday.)
Corporations aren't the only ones who stand to reap financial rewards from the hacking wave. Government agencies such as the FBI and the National Security Administration could use the attacks to bolster their requests for bigger budgets, some cyber-skeptics noted.
Some astute observers noticed that the attacks coincided with the anniversary of the landmark Telecommunications Act of 1996, which President Clinton signed into law four years ago Tuesday. The law was one of the government's earliest attempts to regulate cyberspace.
If Uncle Sam wasn't responsible for the attack, perhaps a foreign regime was, some people suggest. The governments of Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, North Korea and Libya are all mentioned online as possible culprits.
The most likely candidate, according to chat room visitors, is China. Should the Red Army attack the United States, the first step would surely be to disrupt the U.S. communications system, several military buffs suggest.
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Even radio shock jock Howard Stern is mentioned as a possible source of the upheaval. That prospect was welcomed by one visitor to the Deja News Web site, who wrote, ''I wonder if tomorrow's headlines will read 'Hackers attack again! Make Jokeland funny!' ''
Whoever ultimately is found to be responsible should be made to face serious consequences, many Netizens agreed.
''Hackers threaten the foundation of society, the system of trust,'' wrote a Deja News visitor with the handle ''Imperialist.'' ''That's why they are bad.''
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