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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Recruitment Genius: Cleaner / Caretaker / Storeman

£15500 - £17680 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A position has become available...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Sales - SaaS B2B

£60000 - £120000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This conference call startup i...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital and print design a...

Day In a Page

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

RuPaul interview

The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head
Secrets of comedy couples: What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?

Secrets of comedy couples

What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?
Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
The best swimwear for men: From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer

The best swimwear for men

From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer
Mark Hix recipes: Our chef tries his hand at a spot of summer foraging

Mark Hix goes summer foraging

 A dinner party doesn't have to mean a trip to the supermarket
Ashes 2015: With an audacious flourish, home hero Ian Bell ends all debate

With an audacious flourish, the home hero ends all debate

Ian Bell advances to Trent Bridge next week almost as undroppable as Alastair Cook and Joe Root, a cornerstone of England's new thinking, says Kevin Garside
Aaron Ramsey interview: Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season

Aaron Ramsey interview

Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season
Community Shield: Arsene Wenger needs to strike first blow in rivalry with Jose Mourinho

Community Shield gives Wenger chance to strike first blow in rivalry with Mourinho

As long as the Arsenal manager's run of games without a win over his Chelsea counterpart continues it will continue to dominate the narrative around the two men
The unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth - and what it says about English life

Unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth

Bournemouth’s elevation to football’s top tier is one of the most improbable of recent times. But it’s illustrative of deeper and wider changes in English life
A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms