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Extortionists have threaten to send out images of child abuse in emails in the name of Blue Square unless the online gambling site hands over €7,000 ($8,900).

The sick telephone threat followed a five-hour distributed denial of service attack against the popular site earlier this week, the BBC reports. This DDoS attack was accompanied by an email from Serbia on Monday threatening that the assault would be intensified unless Blue Square paid €7,000 into an account. This DDoS attack was successfully thwarted only to be followed by a phone call to the firm's IT director from a man with an "East European accent" threatening to damage Blue Square's brand by distributing child porn material in its name unless money was handed over within 48 hours.

"This is a new twist on the standard 'distributed denial of service' attack," Ed Pownall, communications officer at Blue Square, told BBC News. "Because we can now repel their online attacks so quickly this is obviously an attempt to ramp up the intimidation. It is just revolting."

The firm has decided to speak publicly about the issue so that recipients of any depraved emails will know it is not from Blue Square. The attack against Blue Square, launched from compromised PCs in South America, is the latest in a long series of DDoS attacks against online gambling sites, which have intensified this year.

In July three men suspected of masterminding a cyber-extortion racket targeting online bookies were arrested in a joint operation between the UK's National Hi-Tech Crime Unit and its counterparts in the Russian Federation. The trio, who investigators reckon netted hundreds of thousands of pounds from the shakedowns, were picked up in a series of raids both in St Petersburg, and in the Saratov and Stavropol regions in southwest Russia.

Extortion is not the only motive behind DDoS attacks. In August six men were charged by the Californian courts over the first-ever case involving the use of sophisticated denial of service attacks directed against business rivals. Jay Echouafni, chief exec of Orbit Communication Corporation in Massachusetts, along with a business partner allegedly hired computer hackers in Arizona, Louisiana, Ohio, and the UK to launch computer attacks against Orbit online competitors. "These sustained attacks allegedly began in October 2003 and caused the victims to lose over $2m in revenue and costs associated with responding to the attacks," according to investigators. Echouafni, who faces a five-count federal indictment, is on the run.

The modus operandi of DDoS attacks, whatever their motives, remains broadly consistent. Worms such as MyDoom and Bagle (and Trojans such as Phatbot) surrender the control of infected PCs to hackers. These expanding networks of zombie PCs (dubbed 'botnets' by the computer underground) are most often used for spam distribution but they also serve as effective platforms for DDoS attacks. Attacks typically start with crude SYN Flood attacks. If that doesn't scare targets into paying then attackers resort to more sophisticated attacks (SYN Floods, UDP Floods, NB-Gets, ICMP Ping Floods and UDP Fragment Attacks). The effect on unprotected sites can be devastating. ®

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