Bringing Down the Internet
Thursday, October 24, 2002
Monday evening saw a distributed, denial-of-service attack against the
Internet root name servers. 7 of the 13 root name servers were brought down.
Name servers are responsible for translating relatively friendly addresses
like "www.cnn.com" into their numeric equivalents. The root name servers
keep track of all the rest of the name servers. Without them, the Internet
ceases to function in any meaningful way. Fortunately, the attack stoped
just shy of causing global outages.
A denial of service attack is simply a way of saying that the servers were
bombarded with phony requests. While tied up in knots trying to answer bad
requests, the servers quit answering legitimate requests. Spam is another
form of a denial-of-service attack as servers that are caught up processing
junk e-mail cannot properly handle legitimate messages.
Distributed means that the attack came from several different locations.
These were probably servers hijacked by hackers. In similar incidents
over the past few years, hackers gained access to university computers and
ran their attacks from those systems against many large web sites such as
This attack is different in that it was waged against the very core of the
Internet rather than a few high profile companies. It serves as a reminder
that though the Internet has become a very useful tool to the average
citizen, it is still a very delicate system.