H4cked Off: The Spamhaus cyber attack that did not 'break the internet'

By Sooraj Shah
28 Mar 2013 View Comments

A distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack thought to be the largest in the world has been claimed to have nearly ‘broken the internet'.

Further reading

The attack has reportedly stemmed from Dutch web host Cyberbunker, after it had been blocked by spam filtering service Spamhaus.

But could it really have ‘broken' the internet? And what can we learn from the attack?

Let's back up a bit, to nail down the facts:

March 18: Spamhaus site comes under attack, and takes the site offline. The non-profit anti-spam organisation signs up for web performance and security company CloudFlare. At the time, the attack was sending 10GBps of traffic, generated from open DNS recursors.

March 19: The attack increased in size, peaking at about 90Gbps.

March 20: CloudFlare jumps the gun and publishes a blog explaining "the DDoS attack that knocked Spamhaus offline" and how it mitigated the threat.

March 21: The attackers were quiet for a day, after the attack had fluctuated between 90Gbps and 30Gbps.

March 26: The New York Times publishes an article stating that a war between Cyberbunker and Spamhaus had escalated into one of the largest cyber-attacks on the internet, "causing widespread congestion and jamming crucial infrastructure around the world".

It claimed that millions of users had been affected, slowing down services like Netflix, and that this could ultimately lead to basic internet services such as e-mail and online banking being unreachable.

Cue widespread pandemonium, panic, and a Metro headline suggesting that the internet was "on the brink".

But while the attack has been confirmed to be one of epic proportions - the largest that has been directed at Spamhaus, a firm which gets attacked on a constant basis, and one that Kaspersky's Lab has said is "one of the largest DDoS operations to date"- to take down the internet is an entirely different proposition.

Indeed, in response to the question "is this the biggest attack ever", Spamhaus said "many organisations are not open about the fact that they are attacked at all, let alone about techniques or traffic volumes used in the attack".

Hence the government's cry out for more information-sharing between organisations in both the public and private sector on such cyber threats - with the result being yesterday's launch of the cyber information sharing partnership (CISP).

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