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Blog

11/02/16
The DDOS Attack that Broke the Internet

By now you’ve probably heard the term DDOS flying around the internet and can broadly identify it as ‘the thing that caused the internet to come to a screeching halt' two weeks ago. But you probably don’t know what it really means, what caused it and how to prevent it from happening again in the future.On Friday October 21st, activity on most major websites came to an abrupt stop around mid-morning, sending everyone and the Internet into a frenzy. This happened primary in the U.S. East Coast, but also spread to the Midwest. At first everyone thought it was just their internet acting up so they refreshed, and refreshed…and refreshed again. And users constantly refreshing their browsers were just fueling fire. It turns out that it wasn’t just a lowly router acting up but rather a massive attack on the Internet known as a Denial of Service, or DDOS.

What a DDOS Attack Means

DDOS attacks have been around as long as the Internet, for over two decades. Essentially what it is, is a massive network of infected drone machines turn into botnets that flood the Internet with junk traffic, causing sites to crash. In the most recent DDOS, the target was Dyn, which is the Internet’s equivalent of the Yellow Pages. 

What Caused the 10/21 DDOS

What makes this attack unique and terrifying, is that it was carried out by an individual as opposed to a nation state. This is terrifying because it demonstrates the shift in online power. Anyone in the world sitting in their basement can carry out a massive like this, and that’s scary! The hackers relied on compromised Inter-of-Things (IoT) devices including, but not limited to: DVRs, webcams, closed-circuit cameras, smart home devices, baby monitors, open-sources software and even Internet-connected ovens.

Hackers would infect these devices with the Mirai botnet, and scour the web for IoT devices that had little-t-no protection. They then bombarded online targets with traffic at a fast rate until users were incapable of accessing the site due to the high volume. When Dyn was under attack two weeks ago, it shut down major sites such as Twitter, Tumblr, Amazon, Spotify and Netflix – to name a few. Check out a more in-depth list of affected sites here.

How to Prevent Another DDOS Attack
The reason the hackers were able to worm their way into our IoT devices, is because they’re not protected properly. Some examples include, a wireless router set-up with the factory distributed password or having multiple devices with the same password you’ve used two-dozen times. Humans are creatures of habit, and much like a physical robbery, thieves are able to detect and take advantage of this.   

The Project on Active Defense by George Washington University’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security is exploring options for proactive counter attacks. Is it ethical or even legal for a company to hack back? They’re not sure of the ramifications this sort of action could have. Over-the-air remote security is become more and more common, and one starting point could be requiring all devices to have this feature. As hackers become more clever and widespread, researchers and analytics will continue to consider how to appropriately respond.



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