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'Hacktivism' threatens world of nations

DDoS gets political

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Usenix Politically motivated computer attacks like the one last year that crippled network traffic in Estonia for weeks are likely to increase, and there's not much victims can do to stop them, a security researcher says.

Indeed, just last week government websites in the former Soviet republic of Georgia were ransacked by a denial-of-service attack amid growing diplomatic tensions between the country and Russia. Other victims include Radio Free Europe and dissidents in Tibet and Burma.

And an explosion of do-it-yourself tools is making it easier than ever to assure that the attacks are more and more powerful, Jose Nazario, a security analyst for Arbor Networks said at the Usenix Security Symposium in San Jose, California. That gives the politically disaffected a power they've never had before.

"It's a huge, level playing field," he said. "Who would have thought that a couple of kids could basically disrupt a nation for several weeks?"

Asymmetrical attacks - in which a relatively small number of people inflict huge damage on a much larger target - are on the rise thanks to advances made by cyber miscreants. DDoS attacks at the beginning of the decade typically topped out at around 200 Mbps. Now Nazario sees them as high as 25 Gbps. While so-called 'hacktivist' attacks on Estonia brought geopolitically motivated cyber attacks to light, they date back to at least the late 1990s during the conflict between Kosovo and Serbia, Nazario said.

While some people in the US have publicly considered launching counter-strikes using military-owned botnets, Nazario said such approaches wouldn't be effective, mainly because miscreants have so many ways of concealing where the attacks are coming from.

"Proactive solutions are generally not truly workable," he said. "It's going to be reactive and the goal is to shorten the reaction time and ... to minimize external damage." ®

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