If you opened the printed paper of the New York Times’ business section on Saturday, your vision was breached with copious news of Internet hacking. One story focused on a MasterCard and Visa data breach while another focused on how the Internet engineers prepare for an incipient attack, whether those posing the threat are ‘for real’ or ‘for April fooling.’
In the movie, Star Wars, Jedi knights cruise the universe upholding peace. In the world of the Web, engineers scour the Internet at all hours, ensuring all is copasetic with the 1s and 0s. In mid February something caught their eye: the clan of collective chaos, Anonymous, was hinting at an April fool’s attack on the Internet’s DNS system.
The Domain Name System translates a site’s name into numbers, which are a lot easier for computers to understand. The engineers had no definitive way of differentiating fact from fiction, but decided to get proactive, instating a ‘call to arms.’ The engineers would have to prepare for a ‘rebel assault.’ What does preparations of a hacking attack entail?
It requires speed and a lot of money, a multi-million dollar global effort to augment the DNS. Readers, who are associated with the needs of maintaining and defending a computer system and the vigilance of engineers addressing such matters, can relate to the proactive sentiments of engineers. “Whether or not Anonymous carries out this particular attack, there are larger attacks that do happen,” reminds Bill Woodcock of Packet Clearing House. “A forewarning of this attack allowed everyone to act proactively for a change. We can get out in front of the bigger attacks.”
The implements of this kind of war are ramped-up capacities. As the Times piece addresses, the hackers would try to make servers defunct by overloading them with data. Such an attack is referred to as a DDoS or distributed denial of service attack. The only way to prepare and deflect such an attack is to ensure the servers have enough capacity to address the incoming data; so, servers can address the bogus information while not disturbing ‘normal’ operations.
Being an Internet Jedi seems pretty exciting! “For us, it’s not going to be another day at the office. We are going to be on alert,” says Paul Vixie of Internet Systems Consortium. However, Vixie warns against irrational paranoia or what he refers to as ‘panic engineering.’ He advises using the yet-unfulfilled threats of Anonymous as an opportunity to “kick the tires” of respective systems, ensuring all is sound.
By the time readers view this article the threshold of the attack will have come and gone. We’ll have to measure the real effects or consider the foolish nature of an empty threat. Nevertheless, engineers are guarding the galaxy of 0s and 1s for us browser folk.