Cyber security continues to be an issue for both private business and government, with hackers and other cyber criminals finding new and inventive ways to disrupt or completely stop business.
The latest trend among hackers – or “hactivists,” as some refer to them – has been to knock websites offline for hours, days or even longer through the use of denial-of-service attacks.
Such attacks increased 70% in the first six months of 2012, according to a report from USA Today. The newspaper used information given it exclusively by Prolexic, a Florida-based company that specializes in website defense.
In recent years, groups such as Anonymous and LulzSec have garnered worldwide fame (or infamy) for cyber attacks on corporate and government sites. The primary method is a denial of service attack that keeps people from getting onto or conducting business on a website.
Anonymous, for example, has targeted the Church of Scientology, Visa, Mastercard and the British government, among others. They appear in public in Guy Fawkes masks, made famous in the film version of the graphic novel, “V For Vendetta.”
Both groups and other online hackers profess to target corporations they perceive as engaging in bad behavior and government agencies they accuse of, among other things, suppressing dissent.
The twist now is that the denial of service attacks appear to be coming from governments themselves who are attempting to stop online discussions about governmental corruption and human rights violations, according to the USA Today article. Some of the countries mentioned include Burma, North Korea, China and Russia.
The intention of these government-backed hackers is disrupting websites that foster dissent to avoid another “Arab spring,” in which Arabic dissenters, most famously in Egypt, used technology to coordinate their efforts. They ended up overthrowing a dictatorship in Egypt.
The denial of service attacks are keeping dissenters in some countries from discussing issues on websites and blogs online.
Harry Sverdlove, chief technology officer at tech security firm Bit9, told USA Today, "We are seeing nation-states use such techniques as a precursor to physical warfare or as a way of silencing dissent."
One example is Cyberwarriors for Freedom, an anti-gay rights group with ties to Iran that recently knocked a Eurovision singing contest off the web because of the inclusion of a gay singer.
Attacks are becoming more sophisticated, as well. More computers are being used to send nuisance signals to targeted sites, according to the USA Today article, resulting in longer periods of disruption (days, sometimes, instead of hours).
Most denial of service attacks utilize a network of hundreds or thousands of infected computers to send nuisance requests that keep a site from operating correctly and keep members of the public from accessing it properly.
There is even software available now that allows a person to voluntarily allow their computers to be part of a Botnet attack.
Hackers recently attempted to disrupt the elections in the Dominican Republic, flooding the government-run election site. Prolexic, hired to help maintain the system, were able to stop the hackers from disrupting the election, but it was a cyber fight that continued throughout Election Day and 12 hours after the polls closed, according to USA Today.
In America, officials are gearing up to protect important computer systems during election day. Tom Cross, with network monitoring firm Lancope, told USA Today, "I hope that we don't see denial-of-service attacks in association with the U.S. presidential elections, but it's a distinct possibility, and we need to be prepared for it.”