A cyberattack on a New Hampshire internet infrastructure company crippled the web up and down the East Coast after hackers unleashed a barrage of online traffic, using infected web-connected devices like webcams to take down service.
Twitter, Amazon, PayPal, Spotify and countless other websites dealt with outages or slowdowns for users on the East Coast yesterday.
A Twitter account belonging to the hacktivist group Anonymous appeared to claim responsibility for the attack, while another hacker group spread across Russia and China told The Associated Press they were responsible. Neither claim has been confirmed.
WikiLeaks appears to believe its supporters were behind the hack, and urged its backers to “stop taking down the U.S. internet,” saying its founder Julian Assange “is still alive and WikiLeaks is still publishing.”
Dyn, based in New Hampshire, said it was trying to fight off cyberattacks all day yesterday, intermittently saying service was restored only to warn of another attack shortly after.
Dyn provides domain name server services to websites, part of the infrastructure that makes the internet easy for everyone to use. When a user types in www.twitter.com, Dyn translates that request to a specific IP address that servers understand.
The attack, known as a distributed denial of service, or DDoS, uses huge networks of infected computers and internet-connected devices to remotely flood a specific web server with so much traffic it cannot keep up.
“DDoS is essentially like surrounding somebody with hundreds of 4-year-olds constantly asking, ‘why?’ It would bring you to your knees,” said James Waldo, chief technology officer and a computer science professor at Harvard University. “The thing about DDoS is it’s fairly simple to stage and it can get hard to combat.”
The East Coast was most affected, experts said, because the attacks were focused on those servers.
Cybersecurity firm Flashpoint said the attack used software for directing attacks from internet-connected devices including webcams, routers and television DVRs.
“You can buy these zombie computers. Hackers have already infected those zombie computers,” said Xinwen Fu, a computer science professor at UMass Lowell. “These attacks are cheap, it’s easy, it always works if you have enough computers.”
The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are investigating, the agencies said.
The motive for the attack remains unclear, but could be a simple thirst for mayhem and disruption, experts said. Over the past month, several DDoS attacks have been launched, including at a cybersecurity researcher and reporter.
“It’s an arms race,” Waldo said. “These attacks are getting larger all the time.”
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