The publicity machine at Universal Pictures has been in overdrive promoting its record-breaking blockbuster "The Lost World: Jurassic Park." Even the movie's World Wide Web site (http://www.lost-world.com) commanded multiple flacks.
So when the site's dinosaur logo was briefly replaced with a fossilized waterfowl and the words "The Duck World: Jurassic Pond" a week and a half ago, hard-core Netizens suspected that what at first appeared to be a routine hack was actually an inside job designed to generate even more publicity.
As circumstantial evidence, they point out that the changes made to the site's title page were totally out of character for a true hacker. Unlike other hacks, the dinosaur-to-duck stunt did not employ humor, parody, sexual images or political overtones.
The duck drawing is so slick that many believe it had to be done by a professional artist, and the file date suggests it was completed before the site's official launch. In addition, the studio's globe logo was preserved and the screen was signed "Hackers," two other highly unusual moves.
"The Duck World thing felt all wrong," said Cheryl Gilbert, director of training for an Internet company called ESG in the Netherlands. Hacks, she said, "are all done for a reason, be it taunting, be it political, be it just plain nastiness. The 'Lost World' site lacked reason for being."
Except as a PR stunt, skeptics say. News of the alleged hack ran in Entertainment Weekly, Variety and The Times' Calendar section, plus the Web sites of CNN and C/NET.
Alan Sutton, Universal Pictures' senior vice president of distribution and marketing, said the notion of a self-inflicted hack is preposterous. But he also said Universal has no intention of pressing charges against the person who defeated the company's security system--a leniency many find hard to swallow.
A producer at Universal New Media, the division that created the Web site, said employees were told the prank was traced to "a 16-year-old hacker kid from back East."
But many are not convinced. Steven Champeon, who builds intranets for Digital Aspect in Cary, N.C., challenged Universal to reveal details of the "Lost World" break-in: "By providing details as to how their site was cracked, they could do two things: help other Web site administrators prevent such awful crimes and clear their bad name."
What some Netizens found most upsetting is that in using the hack--no matter who did it--to promote its movie, Universal reinforced popular fears about the lawlessness of the Internet. Initial media reports that took the hack story at face value contributed to the problem, they said.
"Universal is getting a lot of traffic," said Glen Lipka, co-founder of Kokopelli New Media Development in New York. "They don't care if people get a bad view of the Internet--they're loving this because they're getting more hits."