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23 October 2016

Hackers Used New Weapons to Disrupt Major Websites Across U.S.

"Security researchers have long warned that the increasing number of devices being hooked up to the internet, the so-called Internet of Things, would present an enormous security issue. And the assault on Friday, security researchers say, is only a glimpse of how those devices can be used for online attacks."

A map of the areas experiencing problems, as of Friday afternoon,
according to 
downdetector.com.
Hackers Used New Weapons to Disrupt Major Websites Across U.S.
by Nicole Perlroth, The New York Times, 21 October 2016

SAN FRANCISCO — Major websites were inaccessible to people across wide swaths of the United States on Friday after a company that manages crucial parts of the internet’s infrastructure said it was under attack.

Users reported sporadic problems reaching several websites, including Twitter, Netflix, Spotify, Airbnb, Reddit, Etsy, SoundCloud and The New York Times.

The company, Dyn, whose servers monitor and reroute internet traffic, said it began experiencing what security experts called a distributed denial-of-service attack just after 7 a.m. Reports that many sites were inaccessible started on the East Coast, but spread westward in three waves as the day wore on and into the evening.

And in a troubling development, the attack appears to have relied on hundreds of thousands of internet-connected devices like cameras, baby monitors and home routers that have been infected — without their owners’ knowledge — with software that allows hackers to command them to flood a target with overwhelming traffic.

A spokeswoman said the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security were looking into the incident and all potential causes, including criminal activity and a nation-state attack.

Kyle York, Dyn’s chief strategist, said his company and others that host the core parts of the internet’s infrastructure were targets for a growing number of more powerful attacks.

“The number and types of attacks, the duration of attacks and the complexity of these attacks are all on the rise,” Mr. York said.

Security researchers have long warned that the increasing number of devices being hooked up to the internet, the so-called Internet of Things, would present an enormous security issue. And the assault on Friday, security researchers say, is only a glimpse of how those devices can be used for online attacks.

Dyn, based in Manchester, N.H., said it had fended off the assault by 9:30 a.m. But by 11:52 a.m., Dyn said it was again under attack. After fending off the second wave of attacks, Dyn said at 5 p.m. that it was again facing a flood of traffic.

A distributed denial-of-service attack, or DDoS, occurs when hackers flood the servers that run a target’s site with internet traffic until it stumbles or collapses under the load. Such attacks are common, but there is evidence that they are becoming more powerful, more sophisticated and increasingly aimed at core internet infrastructure providers.

Going after companies like Dyn can cause far more damage than aiming at a single website.

Dyn is one of many outfits that host the Domain Name System, or DNS, which functions as a switchboard for the internet. The DNS translates user-friendly web addresses like fbi.gov into numerical addresses that allow computers to speak to one another. Without the DNS servers operated by internet service providers, the internet could not operate.

In this case, the attack was aimed at the Dyn infrastructure that supports internet connections. While the attack did not affect the websites themselves, it blocked or slowed users trying to gain access to those sites.

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