Biggest Cyber Attack Causes Global Internet Slowdown

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LONDON: One of the largest ever cyber attacks is slowing global internet services and the disruption could get worse, experts said on Wednesday, after an organisation blocking “spam” content became a target.

Spamhaus, a London and Geneva-based non-profit group which helps weed out unsolicited “spam” messages for email providers, said it had been subjected to “distributed denial of service” (DDoS) attacks on an unprecedented scale for more than a week.

“Based on the reported scale of the attack, which was evaluated at 300 Gigabits per second, we can confirm that this is one of the largest DDoS operations to date,” online security firm Kaspersky Lab said in a statement.

“There may be further disruptions on a larger scale as the attack escalates.”

Spamhaus publishes blacklists used by internet service providers (ISPs) to weed out spam in email traffic.

The group is directly or indirectly responsible for filtering as much as 80 per cent of daily spam messages, according to Cloudflare, a company that said it was helping Spamhaus mitigate the attack.

“We’ve been under this cyber-attack for well over a week,” Steve Linford, chief executive of Spamhaus, told the BBC. “They are targeting every part of the internet infrastructure that they feel can be brought down.”

Perpetrators of DDoS attacks typically target websites by flooding servers with messages from multiple systems so they cannot identify and respond to legitimate traffic.

Paul Vlissidis, group technical director at internet security firm NCC, said the volumes of traffic involved in the attack were having a knock-on effect on the rest of the internet.

Because many computers were involved in the attack, it was difficult to defend against.

“If you have a few computers sending large amounts of traffic you can filter them out easily. When literally thousands and thousands are involved it makes it much, much harder,” he told Reuters.

However, according to thinkbroadband, an independent British information website which allows users to test their broadband speed, there appeared to be little evidence of a slowdown.

“Of course it is possible that people may be finding some services or sites they access over the Internet are performing slower than usual … but there appears to be no evidence to say that UK broadband users have been slowed down across the board,” it said on its blog.

The Spamhaus Project is a nonprofit organization that patrols the Internet for spammers and publishes a list of Web servers those spammers use. According to Prince, the group may be responsible for up to 80% of all spam that gets blocked. This month, the group added CyberBunker to its blacklist.

“While we don’t know who was behind this attack, Spamhaus has made plenty of enemies over the years,” Prince wrote in a blog post. “Spammers aren’t always the most lovable of individuals and Spamhaus has been threatened, sued, and DDoSed regularly.”

In a DDoS attack, computers flood a website with requests, overwhelming its servers and causing it to crash or become inaccessible for many users.

Vincent Hanna, a researcher with The Spamhaus Project, said the group’s record speaks for itself. He said the project has existed for over 12 years and its data is used to protect more than 1.7 billion e-mail accounts worldwide.

“We have 1.7 billion people looking over our shoulders to make sure we do our job right,” he said. “If we start blocking things they want, they won’t use our data any more.”

He emphasized that Spamhaus doesn’t have the power to block e-mail from anyone — it merely makes its data available for service providers and other Web companies to use.

Hanna said Spamhaus experienced its first denial-of-service attack in 2003.

“This has been the biggest for us,” he said, “but certainly not the first one.”

Cloudflare’s Prince said denying access to a website through cyberattacks is the truest assault on Web freedom.

“Our role is to allow the internet to achieve what it aspires to — that anyone, anywhere can publish any piece of information and make it accessible to anyone, anywhere else in the world,” he said. “It’s blatant censorship.

“Whether Spamhaus is a good organization or a bad organization is irrelevant to me. We protect American financial institutions, which some people think are evil, and we protect WikiLeaks, which some people think are evil.”

Divers caught while cutting Internet cable

Egypt’s naval forces captured three scuba divers who were trying to cut an undersea Internet cable in the Mediterranean on Wednesday, a military spokesman said. Telecommunications executives meanwhile blamed a weeklong Internet slowdown on damage caused to another cable by a ship.

There was preliminary evidence of slow Internet connections as far away as Pakistan and India, said Jim Cowie, chief technology officer and co-founder of Renesys, a network security firm based in Manchester, N.H., that studies Internet traffic.

A cable cut can cause data to become congested and flow the long way around the world, he said.

It’s not the first time cable cuts have affected the Mideast in recent years. Errant ships’ anchors are often blamed. Serious undersea cable cuts caused widespread Internet outages and disruptions across the Middle East on two separate occasions in 2008. Agencies

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