Hackers hit right at the heart of the Internet

Hackers are becoming increasingly audacious. In late October 2002, a group of them successfully crippled nine of the 13 root servers that manage global Internet traffic with a distributed denial of service attack – a flood of unsolicited web traffic from multiple locations.

As a result of the attack, seven of the root servers – which are file servers that act as a master directory of computers on the Internet – failed to respond to Internet traffic and two others suffered from intermittent problems.

The coordinated attack flooded the globally distributed servers with network traffic between 30 and 40 times normal volumes. Fortunately, the attack only lasted one hour and caused minimal disruption, after security experts deployed defensive measures.

However, the outcome could have been far worse. Security experts said that the failure of just one more root server would have caused serious disruption to email and Internet usage across the globe. The US government is investigating the attack, and are not ruling out cyberterrorism as a possibility, but experts have warned that it could be difficult, if not impossible, to track down the perpetrators of the attack.

However, the US government often traces the source of attacks to unusual places, such as the bedroom of 16-year-old Richard ‘Datastream Cowboy’ Pryce in North London in 1994. It is therefore possible that a ‘script kiddie’ like Pryce, having downloaded data from the South Korean Atomic Research Institute system, could have devised a coordinated attack to bring down the entire Internet via its root servers – something that would gain him the greatest respect in the hacker community.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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