Russia blamed for cyber terror blitz

Attack on Twitter and Facebook designed to silence Georgian blogger

Russian hackers have been accused of being behind an enormous cyber attack which temporarily shut down two of the world's most popular social networking sites in order to silence a Georgian blogger who is critical of Moscow's policies in the Caucasus.

Twitter went offline for several hours on Thursday whilst Facebook and Livejournal suffered major slowdowns following a large distributed denial-of-service (DDOS) attack which flooded their networks. The attacks are believed to have been aimed at a 34-year-old Georgian economics lecturer who has written blogs critical of Russia's military presence in the area.

Hackers use DDOS attacks to flood a website's servers with communication requests from a network of thousands of compromised computers, forcing the website to temporarily shut down. The paralysing effect of the attack, which severely compromised two websites that are regularly used by political dissidents, has raised fresh questions over the vulnerability of internet and the growing potential of cyber warfare as an effective weapon.

As Facebook and Twitter launched investigations yesterday into where the attack on their site originated, a blogger who writes under the name of "Cyxymu" announced that he had been the first target of the attack.

Speaking to reporters yesterday the blogger, who only gave his first name, Georgy, pointed the finger of blame at the Russian government. "Maybe it was carried out by ordinary hackers but I'm certain the order came from the Russian government," he said. "An attack on such a scale that affected three worldwide services with numerous servers could only be organised by someone with huge resources."

Max Kelly, Facebook's chief security officer, refused to be drawn over where the attack came from but he did confirm that the original target was Cyxymu – whose name is a latinised version of the Russian spelling of Sukhumi, the capital of the Georgian breakaway republic, Abkhazia.

"It was a simultaneous attack across a number of properties targeting him to keep his voice from being heard," said Mr Kelly. "You have to ask who would benefit from doing this and think about what those people are doing and the disregard for the rest of the users and the internet."

In recent years DDOS attacks have become increasingly used by both criminal networks and, security experts suspect, foreign governments to either extort money from crippled networks or silence political dissidence. Earlier this summer the Government confirmed that the largest cyber threats against Britain come from hackers in Russia and China and announced the creation of a "cyber security operations centre" to counter the threat. Barack Obama has also made cyber-based enemies a national security priority and has set up his own "cyber security office" which was hit by a DDOS attack earlier this year.

Rik Fergusson, a cyber security expert at Trend Micro, said a DDOS attack relies on a network of thousands of compromised computers which can only be accessed with large amounts of preparation or rented from organised criminal syndicates.

"You either have to have lots of money to rent the network or you need to have put in a lot of groundwork to hack into and compromise the machines that do the attack on your behalf," he said. "Once you have that together, launching the actual attack can be done from a simple netbook. Either way we are seeing a lot more of these attacks and will continue to do so."

When fighting broke out between Georgia and Russia last summer over the breakaway republic of South Ossetia, the Russian advance was complimented by a giant DDOS attack on many of the Georgian government's websites which made it difficult for ministries to co-ordinate the war.

The Dalai Lama asked Canadian investigators to inspect the Tibetan government-in-exile's computers after suspecting that the Chinese government had infiltrated their systems. In March the investigators announced that they had uncovered a vast espionage network run out of China which had infiltrated 1,295 computers in 103 countries. The so-called "Gh0stnet" spying operation had resulted in the theft of documents from scores of computers belonging to embassies, foreign ministries and government offices around the world.

The attack: How it was done

By Jack Riley

*Though the phrase "distributed denial-of-service attack" may conjure up images of striking Tube drivers, its true meaning was revealed yesterday when hackers brought swathes of the internet to a standstill; and if you have ever visited a sketchy website or clicked on a dodgy link in an email, then you may have been involved in it.

As the BBC Click programme demonstrated in an experiment of dubious legality a few months ago, when the few essential ingredients needed to carry out a "DDOS" attack are in place, the disruption can be catastrophic.

Members of the internet's criminal underworld bought from a forum a "botnet" – a network of thousands of computers infected with software downloaded without the users' knowledge. The computers are "zombified" on command by the software and instructed, en masse, to bombard websites with requests so numerous that the sites often end up offline.

A botnet of 1.9m machines was found in April and included infected computers belonging to 77 governments as well as to home users. It was hired out by a gang of cyber mercenaries, at a rate of $100 for 1,000 computers, to those keen to stage large-scale attacks capable of bringing down some of the world's best-protected sites.

Attacks on government sites and state infrastructure have become a worrying new front in warfare, most prominently in the Russia-Georgia conflict, but an attack focusing massive resources on silencing an individual, is, so far, mercifully rare.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
musicBand's first new record for 20 years has some tough acts to follow
News
peopleAt least it's for a worthwhile cause
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Life and Style
Sexual health charities have campaigned for the kits to be regulated
healthAmerican woman who did tells parents there is 'nothing to be afraid of'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Chemistry Teacher

£85 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunity for Secondary ...

English Teacher

£85 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunity for Secondary ...

English Teacher

£100 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Group: [ Megan Smith 22/09/2014 17:00:...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments