Did the East Coast just suffer a massive cyberattack?

A series of popular websites were inaccessible Friday morning after an attack on Dyn, a Domain Name Server (DNS) provider. 

Kacper Pempel/Reuters
A man types on a computer keyboard in Warsaw in this illustration file picture. A cyber attack slowed internet traffic on the East Coast of the United States on Friday morning.

Was your internet service acting strange on Friday morning?

Don’t worry, it’s not your computer.

A series of websites, including Spotify, Twitter, PayPal, GrubHub, Pintrest, Reddit, Etsy, Yelp, CNN, and Netflix, were inaccessible to internet users across the globe Friday morning, specifically web surfers on the United States’ East and West Coasts and in Europe.

The outages were the result of a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack on Dyn, a Domain Name Server (DNS) provider. Dyn has confirmed the cyberattack, but the source of the hack is still unknown. Dyn announced later Friday morning that it had resolved the problems.

So what exactly is a DNS? 

These servers are the equivalent of an internet phone book, holding a directory of domain names. Each time a web surfer searches for a web address via a domain name, the internet provider instantaneously searches that website’s DNS provider, which then instantaneously translates the domain name into a computer-friendly IP address. 

In other words, if it weren’t for DNS, internet users would have to know the IP address for a site (such as 216.168.224.70) instead of the simple domain name (such as csmonitor.com). 

And a DDoS attack effectively breaks down a server’s searching capabilities by overloading a system with server requests. 

“In a DDoS attack, hackers will often use infected computers to create a flood of traffic originating from many different sources, potentially thousands or even hundreds of thousands,” explains Gizmodo. “By using all of the infected computers, a hacker can effectively circumvent any blocks that might be put on a single IP address. It also makes it harder to identify a legitimate request compared to one coming from an attacker.” 

Friday’s hack comes at a time when Americans have a heightened fear of cyberattacks. Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, as well as technical and election experts, are questioning the potential of a nationwide hack on the US voting system come Nov. 8. 

But Jeff Stone, a reporter with the Monitor’s Passcode, attended an event at Washington’s Atlantic Council Wednesday, and says experts aren’t worried about a voting hack on Election Day.

“Most voting machines in most states do not connect to the internet, therefore it would take an extraordinary attack on polling places to actually compromise voting results. It would require physically tampering with machines, and vast manpower,” he wrote. 

The White House Press Secretary says the Department of Homeland Security is investigating Friday’s DDoS attack. 

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