Political net attacks on the rise

March 25, 2009


Kevin Siers, North Carolina - Editorial cartoons from the Charlotte Observer

Kevin Siers, North Carolina - Editorial cartoons from the Charlotte Observer

The MIT Technology Review has an excellent interview with a series of Internet security experts, which finds that politically motivated net attacks are sharply on the rise.

When armed conflict flared up between Russia and Georgia last summer, the smaller country also found itself subject to a crippling, coordinated Internet attack. An army of PCs controlled by hackers with strong ties to Russian hacking groups flooded Georgian sites with dummy requests, making it near impossible for them to respond to legitimate traffic. The attacks came fast and furious, at times directing 800 megabits of data per second at a targeted website.

Wikipedia defines a denial-of-service attack (DOS) as ” an attempt to make a computer resource unavailable to its intended users”.  The US Computer Emergency Response Team has an overview here, observing that most DOS attacks involve:

  • unusually slow network performance (opening files or accessing web sites)
  • unavailability of a particular web site
  • inability to access any web site
  • dramatic increase in the amount of spam you receive in your account
  • While this is merely inconvenient for most public websites, such attacks effect every aspect of the internet and can be used to cripple email, file transfers, intranets, and all means of web-based communication.

    Better use of cyber infrastructure, including such net attacks, will be an increasingly common trend in the future.  Imagine if aid agencies themselves become the target of such attacks?  What if the humanitarian expulsion from Darfur also involved sophisticated efforts to cripple aid groups at their core, vis-a-vis target denial of service attacks? 

    UPDATE – Paul Currion, as usual, has a fantastic example of this kind of thing from Sudan, posted mere hours before this one!  Well done Paul and thanks for the link!

    UPDATE 2 – Humanitarian.info provides more examples on how this is already affected aid agencies (“Denial of service = denial of reality”).  It seems our “hypothetical” question about Darfur has actually already happened.  Do any other HFP Blog readers out there know of similar attacks on aid agencies and NGO’s?