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Saturday, March 31, 2012

With Advance Warning, Bracing for Attack on Internet by Anonymous

Excerpt from an article in

The New York Times
Added on Saturday, March 31, 2012

With Advance Warning, Bracing for Attack on Internet by Anonymous


SAN FRANCISCO — On a quiet Sunday in mid-February, something curious attracted the attention of the behind-the-scenes engineers who scour the Internet for signs of trouble. There, among the ubiquitous boasts posted by the hacking collective Anonymous, was a call to attack some of the network’s most crucial parts.

The message called it Operation Global Blackout, and rallied Anonymous supporters worldwide to attack the Domain Name System, which converts human-friendly domain names like into numeric addresses that are more useful for computers.

It declared when the attack would be carried out: March 31. And it detailed exactly how: by bombarding the Domain Name System with junk traffic in an effort to overwhelm it altogether.

There was no way to know for sure whether this was a pre-April Fool’s Day hoax or a credible threat. After all, this was Anonymous, a decentralized movement with no leaders and no coherent ideology, but a track record of considerable damage. The call to arms would have to be treated as one would treat a bomb threat called in to a high school football game. The engineers would have to prepare.

Those preparations turned into a fast-track, multimillion-dollar global effort to beef up the Domain Name System. They offer a glimpse into the largely unknown forces that keep the Internet running in the face of unpredictable, potentially devastating threats.

Among those leading the effort was Bill Woodcock, whose nonprofit based in San Francisco, Packet Clearing House, defends vital pieces of Internet infrastructure. By his calculation, the Anonymous threat was as good a reason as any to accelerate what might have been done anyway over the next several months: fortify the network, chiefly by expanding the capacity of the root servers that are its main pillar.

“Whether or not Anonymous carries out this particular attack, there are larger attacks that do happen,” Mr. Woodcock said. “A forewarning of this attack allowed everyone to act proactively for a change. We can get out in front of the bigger attacks.”

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