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Civil-service union hit by invisible DDoS is back up

Just in time for strike ballot

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Update The Public and Commercial and Services union's website was back up and running in time for its annual conference on Wednesday, following a week-long denial of service assault.

The attack started on Wednesday 11 May and left the website "struggling to cope with average hourly traffic 1,000 times greater than normal," according to the union. Curiously, the attack failed to hit the radar screens of Arbor Networks, the firm that supplies traffic management and DDoS mitigation tools to the vast majority of the world's biggest telcos.

"So far nothing in our monitors for that IP being a victim of a DDoS attack, and no signs of a DDoS attack there, either, in our monitoring," Jose Nazario, senior manager of security research at Arbor told El Reg.

The union, which represents 300,000 members, mostly civil servants, plans to stage a ballot for strike action against cuts to jobs, pensions and pay at its conference. In a statement, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka described the attacks as a "clear attempt to undermine our union at what is a critical time".

Occasionally server or coding problems can present with the same symptoms as a denial of service attack, something that happened in the case of alternative news site Newsnet Scotland only last month.

We spoke to two union officials, who were both adamant that a denial of service attack was the cause of problems that have made the site intermittently difficult to access or slow over the last week. The duo each said the union had worked with web development firm Pixl8 to resolve the problem.

A spokesman at Pixl8 explained traffic and load on the site had surged despite no increase in visitor numbers. He was quite certain that the site had come under DDoS attack. He suggested that Arbor had not seen anything amiss because, while serious locally, the site did not cause problems for upstream ISPs. ®

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