Network Security, Threat Management

Researcher believes major DDoS attacks part of military recon to shut down internet

Security researcher Bruce Schneier spotted a series of DDoS attacks which may be part of a larger effort to learn how to take down the internet on a national or even global scale.

The attacks targeted major companies that provide the basic infrastructure for the internet and the incidents seem to appear to have probed the companies' defenses to determine how well they can protect themselves, according to a Sept. 13 blog post.

Schneier said he is unable to give details concerning which companies were targeted because he spoke with the companies under anonymity, but said the attack rate has increased in the last two years and that his findings are supported by a Verisign DDoS trends report.

Schneier told he believes the attacks are part a foreign cyber organization doing military recon activities.

The attacks are believed to be from China, but that being said Schneier said he is hesitant to point the blame at anyone.

So far the targeted companies have been able to defend themselves, but when it comes to actually being able to take down the internet, Schneier said, “it does seem you can do it for small amounts of time but not permanently.”

Some other experts agree. Several countries have a history of using DDoS attacks to target the U.S. and other nations so it's safe to say that if taking down the internet will improve one's position as a world power, someone will try to do it, Plixer CEO Michael Patterson told via emailed comments.

“Consider the past attacks on our utilities and our 911 system and you can begin to appreciate the possibility of a combination of attacks that would certainly be possible with DDoS technologies,” Patterson said. “Our government needs to develop and implement a full scale back-up in the event that any one of these world players are successful in taking down the Internet.”

Patterson said so much of the U.S. economy depends on the internet that its critical to have an alternative communication and digital plan in place in case something happens.

However, some industry pros expressed doubt that an attacker would be able to carry out such a large scale attack. While the size, duration, and sophistication of DDoS attacks continue to grow, a complete shutdown is unlikely, Tim Matthews, Imperva Incapsula VP of marketing,  told via emailed comments.

“Attacks might present temporary regional slowdowns – and annoy customers – but certainly not cause a global Internet blackout, as Mr. Schneier suggests,” Matthews said. “And with proper DDoS protections in place, most attacks like these would be stopped in their tracks.”

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