Security experts say that a series of cyber-attacks that downed dozens of popular websites on Friday was likely carried out using everyday internet-connected devices infected with malware.
“It’s remarkable that virtually an entire company’s product line has just been turned into a botnet that is now attacking the United States,” said Allison Nixon, director of research at security firm Flashpoint, adding that multiple botnets, or networks of malware-infected devices, could have been utilized. Cybersecurity experts, including the Department of Homeland Security, had warned in recent weeks of the threat posed by botnets, reported the Guardian.
A similar attack was mounted in September against Krebs on Security. But the breadth of the present incident is apparently without precedent, at least as far as civilian targets go: By targeting Internet infrastructure itself rather than individual sites, millions of users discovered that sites like Netflix, Twitter and Paypal, along with high-traffic news sources like CNN, were suddenly inaccessible. And it highlights the risks attending the growing prevalence of the Internet of Things, with items that serve mundane purposes made vulnerable by their interconnectivity.
As Story Hinckley reported for The Christian Science Monitor on Friday, the incident was known as a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack. Dyn, the company that suffered the outages of service, is a Domain Name Server (DNS) provider:
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 220.127.116.11) instead of the simple domain name (such as csmonitor.com).
WikiLeaks, which has repeatedly published sensitive materials hacked from US government sources, seemed to imply in a Twitter post on Friday that its supporters were responsible. “Mr. Assange is still alive and WikiLeaks is still publishing,” read the post, in reference to founder Julian Assange. "We ask supporters to stop taking down the US internet. You proved your point.”
But US officials say the attacks on Dyn are different from earlier hacks that produced documents published by Wikileaks, as well as targeting of US voter registration rolls, all of which officials claim originated from Russian intelligence. A senior US intelligence official who spoke to NBC News on condition of anonymity told the network that the attack was a case of internet vandalism, with no evidence indicating the involvement of a state actor.
Dyn said on Friday afternoon that its engineers had restored services. In a conference call, its chief strategy officer, Kyle York, told CNBC that it had not heard from attackers and was unsure who they were. "What they're actually doing is moving around the world with each attack,” Mr. York told the network.
[Editor's note: An earlier version misstated the name of Allison Nixon's company.]