Anyone who has used the Internet knows the hassle when hackers bring havoc. Your computer acts crazy, and you can’t get anything done. It’s a real pain in the behind. Up until this morning, it was restricted to individual organizations or individual computers—and, trust me, when that happens, it’s a total pain in the behind. But, this morning, I couldn’t access Twitter, my PayPal account, and several other sites that are important to an independent author—it’s where I do my business. At first, I figured that it was either my computer, or maybe my ISP was clamping the hose and slowing my download speeds. I mean, they’ve been trying to get me to pay for an upgrade to a faster speed, so like any good conspiracy theorist, I figured this was a way to make me change my mind about sticking with the standard package.

Boy, was I wrong. Turns out that hackers, using Internet-connected cameras and other devices had mounted a DDoS attack against Dyn, a company I’d never heard of before today that provides Internet infrastructure to many major companies, including Twitter, PayPal and Netflix among others. This DDoS, or distributed denial of service, consisted of tens of millions of Internet-connected devices, such as cameras, printers, and thermostats, infected with malicious software (malware) that caused them to send millions of messages to Dyn, overwhelming its servers and forcing shutdown. Think of it like this; the Post Office gets so many letters dumped through the mail slots it doesn’t have the staff to stamp, bag and deliver them, so the mail just piles up. If you tried unsuccessfully this morning to access your PayPal account or watch a movie on Netflix, you get the picture.

While DDoS attacks are not uncommon, attacks on the servers that host domains are a new wrinkle, and have the potential to bring a country’s network to a crashing halt.

What’s really scary about this, beyond the fact that it signals the capability to bring an advanced nation to its knees, is that the identity of the hackers responsible for it is currently unknown. And, unlike some pimply faced kid in a basement hunched over his computer banging away at the keyboard, the origin of the malicious signals are other machines probably not even located on the same continent as the author of this attack. It’s under investigation, and I can only hope they find the perp and string him or her up by his or her thumbs, and then play whack-a-mole on him or her with a laptop. Of course, I’m just joking—NOT.

This is some serious stuff. If it’s a bunch of renegade hackers, it’s bad enough. If it’s a group backed by some malicious power (no names, please), it’s truly scary. I hope, though, that it’ll be a wakeup call to the bureaucrats and politicians who make a lot of noise about cybersecurity, but then get bogged down in press conferences and endless meetings. Do some real work guys. It was Netflix and PayPal this time. Next time, it could be the Fed, or the Pentagon. Let’s not wait for the big horses to flee the barn before we reinforce the door. 

Published by Charles Ray