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IRC in jeopardy

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Recent media coverage of massive, crippling DDoS attacks against Undernet, one of the largest IRC (Internet relay chat) networks, indicates the mere tip of an iceberg. In an informal survey of IRC administrators from Undernet, IRCNet, EFnet, and AustNet, we've learned that DDoSing kiddiots have been gobbling up enough bandwidth to make the entire project too expensive to maintain.

IRC is a non-profit, non-commercial, text-oriented chat environment; it's not at all mousey -- you actually do everything at the keyboard (imagine that); and most client interfaces are clean, devoid intelligence-insulting cutesy ICQ-esque noises, bells, whistles and graphics.

It's run by volunteers and is kept alive with donated hardware and bandwidth. It's one of the last Internet spaces which remains virtually free of corporate slickness, influence and management.

Users are encouraged to establish their own channels ('chatrooms' in AOL-ish parlance) and many of the networks provide pre-configured bots which can be used to maintain control of a channel, or will permit users to configure and run their own.

Bots can, of course, be malicious, so those networks which permit user-configured bots offer the most entertaining environments for malicious script kiddies, and pitfalls for innocent newbies.

IRC is also a splendid virtual battlefield for IP war, and this, too, is one of its many charms. Clueless users can be booted, spoofed, infected with viruses and Trojans, hacked, and flooded with ease and to endless amusement. Channel takeovers, too, are common, and struggles for control lead to everlasting feuds.

But because of IRC's very appealing ad hoc nature, the infrastructure, too, is quite vulnerable. The protocol is open source, enabling users to write their own scripts conveniently, whether creative or destructive. This tempts many aspiring kiddiots to test their minimal malicious skillz with such aggravating pursuits as splitting networked servers from each other in order to take over channels.

This is more of a total-war approach, affecting 'civilians' as much as combatants. By isolating a server, one effectively boots all users (bots included) from it, which then makes it a snap to take over a busy channel. The idea is to set up a malicious bot quickly and then join the server back into the stream, with yourself in (temporary) control.

Undeniable fun, but in the end it might spoil the show for all involved. Massive, distributed packet floods (DDoS attacks) work nicely here, but they also devour so much bandwidth that the service providers find themselves donating far more of their costly resources than they ever intended. Many are complaining; others have simply withdrawn their support because it's become too expensive.

"My own prediction is that if wide-spread Denial of Service attacks continue on IRC, it may not exist for much longer," one IRC administrator told The Register. "What a pity that would be."

Indeed. ®

Related Links

IRC clients:
BitchX (*nix)
mIRC (*doze)
Snak (mac)

IRC Scripts and Bots:
Mircscripts.com
IRC-Scripts.com
°ShowDowN PrO°
Xcalibre.net

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