The internet has become a uniquely important component of human interaction. With the central role that the internet plays in modern communication, commerce, and entertainment it would be surprising to find out that there are groups who are trying to shut the internet down for everyone.
This is why the news announced that an unknown group of hackers has been making a coordinated effort to gain access to and shut down vital components of the net is so shocking.
According to a blog post by Bruce Schneier, a noted cybersecurity specialist, these attacks have been occurring for more than a year. He predicts that a state actor is behind the attacks, suggesting that it may have been Russia or China that are behind the attack.
These accusations come at a time of heightened scrutiny of Russia's internet activities. Russia has been discussed as the culprit behind a number of high profile attacks on the infrastructure of the major US political parties. These attacks ultimately led to embarrassing leaks regarding how the Democratic Party's National Committee handled its primary process.
Internet security experts have gone on record to say that these sort of attacks, know as distributed denial of service, or DDoS attacks, have become the new norm for organizations in charge of keeping the internet running smoothly. DDoS attacks usually work by attempting to overload a server with requests and data in an effort to cause it to shut down.
The new attacks that have been conducted are different because of the sheer quantity of data and requests that the attacks are making. This is part of the evidence that cyber-security experts say points to state sponsorship of the attack.
Moreover, the attacks also differ in the variety of different types of DDoS attacks used. The attacks were coordinated in different manners, almost as if the defenses were being tested. The amount of data sent would be slowly increased over time, and a new attack started when a previous attempt was at its strongest.
Cyber defense firms argue that these sorts of attacks have been increasing over the past years. They cite a variety of state, state supported, and non-state actors as the source. Additionally they believe that some of these attacks are commercial in nature, with rival businesses attempting to undermine each other.
The increase in DDoS attacks should be especially worrying for anyone who loves the internet. DDoS attacks can prevent access to favored or necessary sites and services. DDoS attacks can also be part of larger attacks intended to obtain and exploit sensitive information.
Given the wide array of targets and groups involved, there are likely to be very few people who are not at risk.
However cyber security experts remain confident that they are one step ahead of the attackers. They argue that with proper defenses in place even the most sophisticated DDoS attacks can be overcome.
The world will have to wait and see if these experts are right. But if the predictions about state actors being involved are correct, the world could be witness to start of a new digital arms race.