[18,000lbs damage to the ISP.] http://www.examiner.ie/news/ihead.htm#Headline1 January 23th Terrorists attack by hackers hits firms by Caroline O'Doherty THOUSANDS of businesses were without vital e-mail services this week after an Irish Internet provider firm was the victim of a serious security breach by computer hackers, believed to have terrorist links. The hack attack forced Connect Ireland to pull the plug on all its Internet and e-mail services on Tuesday night and staff were still working frantically last night to restore services to its 3,000 customers countrywide by today. The company believe the attack was politically motivated and that they were targeted along with as many as 100 providers in the United States because they created the Internet service or East Timor, the island in the Indian Ocean engaged in a bitter struggle for independence from Indonesia. The attack was the most sophisticated ever recorded in this country and it is believed at least 18 hackers worked simultaneously in a concerted effort to break into the company's high security systems on Tuesday night. Connect Ireland director Martin Maguire said as soon as breaches of their system's security were spotted, they completely shut down all its operations, to the frustration of many customers. "We took the nuclear option for two reasons. We have a social responsibility and were afraid of being used a launch pad for other attacks by these hackers," Mr Maguire said. "We also wanted to reduce the long-term impact on our users although we appreciate customers who have had to do without services will have found that hard to understand." Connect Ireland is responsible for one of the two 'domains' created in this country. The familiar .ie domain run from UCD denotes Irish websites but the company also created the world's first virtual reality country here by setting up the .tp domain as a base for East Timorese sites. Mr Maguire believes the timing of the attack was significant as the freedom.tp site, which addresses issues in the conflict, won its second international award in Portugal last week. He suspects once the hackers had fully penetrated the Connect Ireland system, they intended making their way into the systems of high-profile users where they could have caused havoc to business and industry. They used the name Daniel to identify themselves but although they covered their tracks brilliantly, the hallmarks of their work show they had to be mature, college-educated, well-organised and funded. "Our assumption is that the attack was so well organised, so deliberate and so skilful that whoever was doing it must be getting paid. The value to them is not one of kudos." The cost of the shutdown to Connect Ireland, which is run by just seven people, is estimated at £18,000 so far, but individual customers will have their own figures in mind for the loss of services. "Our customers on the whole have been great. They've come in to man the phones and make tea. It's quite incredible to see how they've rallied round." Mr Maguire said he did not fear future attacks as the company had proven its ability to stop the hackers in their tracks and it would prove costly and difficult to the culprits to have to start again and find a new way through the system when it was up and running.