A special to USLAW NETWORK and USLAW DigiKnow

By Karen Painter Randall, Connell Foley LLP, Roseland, New Jersey

A number of major websites were recently inaccessible to people across wide parts of the United States following a company that manages crucial parts of the internet’s infrastructure being the latest victim of a cyber-attack.  In particular, users reported sporadic problems reaching several websites, including: Twitter, Netflix, Spotify, Airbnb, Reddit, Etsy, SoundCloud and The New York Times.

The company, Dyn, whose servers monitor and reroute internet traffic, reported that it began experiencing what security experts called a distributed denial-of-service attack.  Reports that many sites were inaccessible started on the East Coast, but spread westward in three waves as the day wore on and into the evening.  In a troubling development, the attack appears to have relied on hundreds of thousands of internet-connected devices like cameras, baby monitors and home routers that have been infected — without their owners’ knowledge — with software that allows hackers to command them to flood a target with overwhelming traffic.  A distributed denial-of-service attack, or DDoS, occurs when hackers flood the servers that run a target’s site with internet traffic until it stumbles or collapses under the load. Such attacks are common, but there is evidence that they are becoming more powerful, more sophisticated and increasingly aimed at core internet infrastructure providers.

Dyn is one of many outfits that host the Domain Name System, or DNS, which functions as a switchboard for the internet. The DNS translates user-friendly web addresses like fbi.gov into numerical addresses that allow computers to speak to one another. Without the DNS servers operated by internet service providers, the internet could not operate.  In this case, the attack was aimed at the Dyn infrastructure that supports internet connections. While the attack did not affect the websites themselves, it blocked or slowed users trying to gain access to those sites.

A spokeswoman said the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security were looking into the incident and all potential causes, including criminal activity and a nation-state attack.  Kyle York, Dyn’s chief strategist, said his company and others that host the core parts of the internet’s infrastructure were targets for a growing number of more powerful attacks.  Security researchers have long warned that the increasing number of devices being hooked up to the internet, the so-called Internet of Things, would present an enormous security issue.  Accordingly, security researchers believe that this is only a glimpse of how those devices can be used for online attacks.