Viewpoint: How hackers could decapitate the internet

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    Because I like Tophats Tophat Dragoneye's Avatar
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    Default Viewpoint: How hackers could decapitate the internet

    This is a big article, just so you know. This is the link to where it was found, in BBC's website: Source

    A recent threat, purportedly from the hacker group Anonymous, stated boldly that its members would stop the internet on 31 March.

    The term "Operation Blackout" was coined and it caused much discussion in all the usual forums.

    Those issuing the threat even stated how they would do it. They claimed they could disable the Domain Name Service (known by engineers as the DNS) and that would stop the internet. How so?

    The Domain Name Service is what converts the web addresses you type into your browser (such as BBC - Homepage) into what the internet actually uses: IP addresses (something like 212.58.244.66).

    It is essentially the phone book for the internet. If you could prevent access to the phone book then you would effectively render the web useless.

    The theory behind the proposed attack is based on the fact that the Domain Name Service is a tree structure: it starts with 13 servers at the top level and each of those talks to the next level down, which then pass it on to a further level down, and so on.

    When a change is made at the top level it is copied out across the net so that when you look up what is effectively your local copy of the phone book, it takes you to the correct place.

    If somehow one could prevent some or all of the 13 top level members of the DNS from working, specifically from communicating with others, then this would disrupt the remainder of the tree, and very quickly no-one would be able to use the addresses that we all typically know.

    Overwhelmed

    When the threat was made, it did cause some concern as the would-be hackers correctly identified the locations of the top level systems.

    But, that information was relatively easy to come by from the internet itself.

    The suggestion was made that the hackers could mount what is known as a distributed denial of service (DDOS) attack on the top level of the DNS.

    A DDOS attack is one where you simply flood a webserver with so many requests that it can no longer respond to legitimate requests.

    Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at the computer security firm Sophos, likens it to "15 fat men trying to fit through a revolving door all at once - nothing moves".

    One way the hackers might generate enough traffic is by hijacking others' computers to send the requests.

    They could use a virus to turn the machines into "bots" to do their bidding. The innocent owners need never be aware.

    This technique was used to prevent access to Interpol's website on 28 February 2012. Hackers identifying themselves with the Anonymous movement committed the act - apparently as retaliation against recent arrests.

    It is just one of many organisations to have fallen victim to the manoeuvre over the years.

    "If the attacker has enough bandwidth, almost anything can be taken down," Mikko Hypponen, chief research officer at the anti-malware firm F-Secure told me.

    "In 2004, the massive botnet created by the Mydoom worm briefly shut down Google.com."

    Amplified assault

    So the big question is whether it is possible to use a similar process to generate enough traffic to stop the whole internet.

    As ever, the answer is "that depends". Not surprisingly the authorities know which are the particularly critical elements of the DNS and they have plans to protect them.

    The 13 top-level systems are actually in different countries, are looked after by different organisations and run on different technologies.

    We can be as sure as one can ever be when dealing with the internet, that the top level of DNS can be kept secure.

    But there is a potential problem if hackers subvert the way the DNS has been set up to make it part of the attack.

    This could be done by a process dubbed "amplification" which exploits two facts:

    • A DNS query returns far more information than was in the request itself.
    • It is relatively easy to falsify the address from which a query was sent.



    To carry out the assault the hacker would first identify a target system and then create an army of bots spoofing its IP address.

    This botnet would then send a large number of requests to the DNS which would reply, resulting in a much larger amount of data being fired at the target, causing it to be swamped.

    Create several such botnets and select several targets and you can cause the DNS to flood the very network it is supposed to be serving.

    BH Consulting's information security expert Brian Honan agrees there is a real-world risk.

    "It should be noted though that this disruption, if successful, would be localised to segments of the internet vulnerable to these attacks," he told me.

    "Unfortunately despite this vulnerability being widely known about for many years a large proportion of DNS servers are still not configured correctly to prevent this type of attack."

    Nightmare scenario

    Recently one network provider suffered what appeared to be just such an attack that employed 140,000 machines from the Domain Name Service.
    Other DNS servers' ability to churn out huge amounts of data can be exploited to bring down large parts of the internet

    The attack was able to generate such an avalanche of data that it completely overwhelmed the network.

    There are relatively simple ways of reconfiguring the machines within the Domain Name Service so that they conduct their searches in an alternative way that doesn't allow this "amplification". But few machines do this.

    There are technologies such as domain name system security extensions (DNSSEC) which, although originally designed to meet other threats, could be used to mitigate the effects of some forms of amplification. But only a fortnight ago a study showed that 40% of the US government's part of the DNS had not implemented it, despite it being US government policy to do so, which suggests that even when there are standards that might help they are of little help if not widely implemented.

    And, consider for a moment what would happen if the DNS network was used to attack itself using such an amplification technique? The resulting torrent of data could render significant portions of the web unusable, preventing all of us from accessing the systems we have come to rely upon in our daily lives.

    So to those who say our Domain Name Service is secure and can never be used to disable to internet, I say, never say never.

    Alan Woodward is a visiting professor at the University of Surrey's department of computing. He has worked for the UK government and still provides advice on issues including cybersecurity, covert communications and forensic computing.
    In short, these guys intend to create chaos throughout the world by shutting down the Internet, possibly rendering parts of it inaccessible afterwards as a result. According to a similar, danish article at dr.dk, it's because they wish to protest against SOPA (wasn't that put down for the time being?), Wall Street, bank leaders and 'irresponsible world leaders, who are starving the world for their own selfish desires and sadistic pleasure'.
    I'm not if they can pull it off or not, what do you guys say?
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    Chance of success: 97.73% Shiny Metagross's Avatar
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    Default Re: Viewpoint: How hackers could decapitate the internet

    Whether they actually can or not aside, how can they justify such huge collateral damage? Especially if parts of the Internet stay unusable, it's like the cyberspace equivalent of destroying NYC to remove Wall Street's leadership from power. It shouldn't be an option.

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    Registered User Caitlin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Viewpoint: How hackers could decapitate the internet

    I am 100% confident that it's a hot air hoax.

    When you're going to attack something, you don't say "Hey, we're going to attack you." before you actually do it, especially a month in advance (they announced their "plan" in mid February). That, and March 31st. One day before April 1st. They're trying to drum up fear in the biggest "troll hoax" of all time.

    They might be able to disrupt service for a brief time, but I'm sure the people behind the top level DNS servers are more capable of fighting off a couple of script kiddies. If this even happens.

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    Default Re: Viewpoint: How hackers could decapitate the internet

    Quote Originally Posted by Caitlin View Post
    I am 100% confident that it's a hot air hoax.

    When you're going to attack something, you don't say "Hey, we're going to attack you." before you actually do it, especially a month in advance (they announced their "plan" in mid February). That, and March 31st. One day before April 1st. They're trying to drum up fear in the biggest "troll hoax" of all time.

    They might be able to disrupt service for a brief time, but I'm sure the people behind the top level DNS servers are more capable of fighting off a couple of script kiddies. If this even happens.
    I agree, it's almost impossible to shut down the entire internet, it's just too big, I too think this is a hoax, just like the hoax on March 11th about the FBI shutting the entire American internet in order to stop a virus which, in reality, did not exist at all...
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    Default Re: Viewpoint: How hackers could decapitate the internet

    https://twitter.com/#!/AnonymousIRC

    Straight from the horse's mouth:

    Quote Originally Posted by AnonymousIRC
    Prediction: The Internet will not be shut down by #Anonymous. Reason: Crystal Ball.
    Quote Originally Posted by AnonymousIRC
    Sorry, but what kind of moronic imbeciles would think about an operation that "shuts down the internet" anyway? Oh, Backtrace? Oh wait... ;)

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    Default Re: Viewpoint: How hackers could decapitate the internet

    Obviously Anonymous is just messing with us for the most part, but that doesn't mean we should let our guard down (if that would help prevent the problem, anyway).

    But for the most part, this is Anonymous being assholes, which is nothing unusual.

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    robo laser rave party Kyumorph's Avatar
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    Default Re: Viewpoint: How hackers could decapitate the internet

    Who the hell would want to legitamitely shut off the Internet anyway?

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    Let's get funky! Gama's Avatar Former Head Administrator
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    Default Re: Viewpoint: How hackers could decapitate the internet

    I'm pretty sure every single person with anywhere near the technical know how and resources to commit such an act would go feral and die within 24 hours of the internet being shut down.

    This article is like Obama issuing an address to say "Hey guys, by the way, I could completely obliterate the United States of America if I wanted. I just wanted you to know that I can do that."

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    Default Re: Viewpoint: How hackers could decapitate the internet

    That would never work. First off, the DNS isn't just something that sits there defenseless. Even if such an attack were to work, surely the people working for the DNS would fix it relatively quickly. They won't just sit around saying "oh no, our system is down, the hackers have won!" and then not do anything about it. Second, even if the DNS was permanately destroyed... businesses could just manually use the IP addresses to connect with other sites.

    Also, no one would be stupid enough to announce their plan. Even if they did succeed, since they told everyone that they were going to do it then the government knows exactly who to come after to arrest. Also, what would be the motive? Those reasons make no sense: "they wish to protest against SOPA (wasn't that put down for the time being?), Wall Street, bank leaders and 'irresponsible world leaders, who are starving the world for their own selfish desires and sadistic pleasure'."
    The SOPA thing especially makes no sense because not only is SOPA no longer an issue, but back when it was an issue the reason people were against it was because it had the possibility of messing up the internet... making it unusable. How would intentionally messing up the internet and making it unusable solve that problem? As for the other reasons... shutting down the internet would harm more than just those 3 groups. As a matter of fact those 3 groups would probably be less affected than the average business or internet-user, since those 3 groups all have their own private networks that don't even rely on the internet.

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    Let's get funky! Gama's Avatar Former Head Administrator
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    Default Re: Viewpoint: How hackers could decapitate the internet

    @dannyjenn

    With regards to you saying that the DNS is heavily defended and that the employees would be able to fix it relatively quickly... I wouldn't be so secure in that assertion. That is something that we all assume, but I'm not sure it is completely true. Take the relatively recent hacking of PSN, for example. Before it happened, I'm not sure anyone would really have believed that it could possibly have happened and that everyone would say that Sony would be better defended than that, but alas they were not.

    The fact is that we are living in an age where technology is advancing at an astonishing rate and increasingly some of the most skilled minds in the world in terms of computer hacking and internet related things are members of groups like Anonymous and Lulz Sec. Some of the stuff they've been able to do really exposes the enormous holes in security that a lot of very large companies have, that most people would assume not to be there at all.

    My personal theory is that part of the aim of all this hacking stuff is to secure themselves extremely high paying jobs in the future. If they could keep up hacks like this at a consistent rate then every large company is going to have to hire people with the technical skill levels to be able to defend against people like Anonymous, and who are the best people for that job going to be?

    Anyway, as Hyperion pointed out, Anonymous have pretty much confirmed this as a hoax. All it was was them gagging for a bit of attention.

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    Because I like Tophats Tophat Dragoneye's Avatar
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    Default Re: Viewpoint: How hackers could decapitate the internet

    Yeah, I agree with all of you guys. It never made sense to begin with, and I also said I wasn't certain if they could pull it off just below the article.
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    Let's get funky! Gama's Avatar Former Head Administrator
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    Default Re: Viewpoint: How hackers could decapitate the internet

    @Dragoneye

    Actually, I think it's probably more realistic than they claim. I just don't think they'd ever do it. It would be like one of the greatest 100m runners in the world choosing to destroy sports - they'd be among the most heavily affected people by it.
    TheMissingno. likes this.

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    Because I like Tophats Tophat Dragoneye's Avatar
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    Default Re: Viewpoint: How hackers could decapitate the internet

    Quote Originally Posted by Gastly's Mama View Post
    @Dragoneye

    Actually, I think it's probably more realistic than they claim. I just don't think they'd ever do it. It would be like one of the greatest 100m runners in the world choosing to destroy sports - they'd be among the most heavily affected people by it.
    Good point. Why ruin the very thing you work with? You would have to be crazy to do it.
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    Default

    Weather or not it can be done isn't the issue,rather:

    Why the hell would you want to do it,as it affect everyone including them

    Unless they're some sort of masochist

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    Default Re: Viewpoint: How hackers could decapitate the internet

    Quote Originally Posted by Gastly's Mama View Post
    @Dragoneye

    Actually, I think it's probably more realistic than they claim. I just don't think they'd ever do it. It would be like one of the greatest 100m runners in the world choosing to destroy sports - they'd be among the most heavily affected people by it.
    Could they make it temporary though? If they could bring everything back online a day later, then they would have done what they said they would do and still have their internet.
    That's nice.

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