'Biggest cyber-attack in history' slows down internet worldwide after quarrel between web-hosting company and anti-spam group

Onslaught, believed to be the work of spammers, has been likened to series of digital 'nuclear bombs'

Internet users worldwide are having to endure slow connections after the biggest cyber-attack in history.

The attackers are throwing so much digital traffic at online networks that they have reportedly disrupted access to popular sites such as Netflix, the on-demand TV streaming service. Tonight there were fears that any worsening of the attack could affect web browsing and emails.

The onslaught has focused attention on the extent to which modern communications depend on the internet. Matthew Prince, chief executive of CloudFlare, one of the firms dealing with the assault, likened it to a series of digital “nuclear bombs”. “It’s so easy to cause so much damage,” he added.

The attack is believed to have begun last week, when Spamhaus, an anti-spam organisation, was hit by a wave of digital traffic that knocked its website offline. The body draws up  lists of the servers used to send spam messages around the world. Email administrators use these lists to block spam.

But last week one of the spammers irked by Spamhouse’s work is believed to have launched the massive distributed denial of service, or DDoS, attack to bring down the anti-spam group.

Pretending to be Spamhaus, the attackers sent a series of data requests to DNS servers, which help direct web traffic around the world. While many of these servers can only be accessed by authorised users, thousands are “open” and can be targeted by attacks like those that first struck last week.

After receiving what they thought were legitimate requests, the servers responded by sending the required data to Spamhaus, which could not deal with the wall of information that suddenly came its way. The attack, which still had not been fully dealt with last night, was so large that it began clogging up the DNS servers. This in turn slowed down replies to the ordinary internet users, hitting connections worldwide.

Spamhaus said it does not yet know who carried out the attacks. “A number of people have made claims to be involved,” it said in an email statement yesterday. “At this moment it is not possible for us to see if they really are.”

Cyberbunker, a web hosting service based in the Netherlands, has been named by reports as a potential culprit. It was recently added to one of Spamhaus’s anti-spam lists. With more than 10,000 dedicated servers, and housed in a disused nuclear bunker, it offers anonymous hosting to its customers. Its website states: “In most cases we have no idea who or where our customers actually are. We do not known and we simply don’t care.”

The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Bytemare: how the attack worked

The attackers tried to overwhelm their target by sending it heavy traffic. A flood of requests to view a site at the same time will exceed its capacity – stopping it from loading.

Spamhaus sought greater capacity, turning to CloudFlare, which can spread the traffic over a larger bandwidth. However, the attackers began targeting their attacks so they would be concentrated. This congestion was so heavy that it overwhelmed DNS routers, used to direct internet traffic. The congestion caused meant that connections across the internet slowed down.

Internet networks also use Internet Exchanges to connect to each other and share bandwidth. If one becomes congested, requests are routed around the blockage, meaning other networks serving unrelated websites also took a share of the burden and could have been slowed down.

Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
Extras
indybestFake it with 10 best self-tanners
Sport
Peter Moores was criticised for failing to handle top players when he last led the England team
sportFive years after being sacked from the job, Peter Moores to be named a cricket coach
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Sport
Steven Gerrard had to be talked into adopting a deeper role by his manager, Brendan Rodgers
sportThe city’s fight for justice after Hillsborough is embodied in Steven Gerrard, who's poised to lead his club to a remarkable triumph
News
The energy drink MosKa was banned for containing a heavy dose of the popular erectile dysfunction Levitra
news
Environment
People are buying increasing numbers of plants such as lavender to aid the insects
environmentGardeners rally round the endangered bumblebee
News
Ida Beate Loken has been living at the foot of a mountain since May
newsNorwegian gives up home comforts for a cave
Extras
indybest10 best gardening gloves
Sport
Australia's Dylan Tombides competes for the ball with Adal Matar of Kuwait during the AFC U-22 Championship Group C match in January
sportDylan Tombides was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011
Arts & Entertainment
tvIt might all be getting a bit much, but this is still the some of the finest TV ever made, says Grace Dent
News
Posted at the end of March, this tweeted photo was a week off the end of their Broadway shows
people
News
peopleStar to remain in hospital for up to 27 days to get over allergic reaction
Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit