Bringing Down the Internet

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 eBay, Yahoo, and Amazon.com.

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.


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