Cyber Battles, Phoney Wars

It is sometimes hard to yawn when it comes to cyber catastrophes and predictions of global internet meltdown, but the latest round of clashes in the global internet backyard has some experts worried. This is exactly what has been happening for a week, with London and Geneva based Spamhaus waging a battle against a DDoS (distributed denial of service) attack from Dutch hosting company Cyberbunker.

It seems so childish, which is what you expect when you start surrendering conventional battlegrounds to adolescents.  With names like Spamhaus and Cyberbunker, the teenagers are running riot with their lingo and their barely pubescent attitudes riddled with angst and acne.

Victims in the battle – a term to be used advisedly – have included Netflix and an assortment of other famed websites, though one can’t help but get the feeling that there is much in the way of gong, and little in the way of dinner here.  What seems to be happening is a gang land battle between computer nerds rather than any meaningful confrontation.

Suggestively, Spamhaus makes its business battling those naughty unwanted messages that make their curving way into an email account.  The way it does so is through blacklisting servers it believes are responsible for the heinous activity, meaning that you will be free from such emails as, “Mr Wong has a business offer for you.”  Blacklisting does come at a price, as it might involve cutting another company’s grass.

Some companies responsible for hosting servers do take offence, which is exactly what Cyberbunker did when it made it to Spamhaus’s naughty list.  It would seem that the sin of Cyberbunker was its libertarian approach to hosting websites, more or less everything bar terrorism-related activities and child pornography.

The opening shots were then fired, with Spamhaus being attacked by a DDoS comprising a heavy 300 gigabits per second, a staggering amount when one considers it is three times that needed to take down government sites.  Similar attacks against bank sites tend to be in the order of 50 Gbps.  According to Cyberbunker’s Sven Olaf Kamphuis, Spamhaus had become something of a self-appointed dictator in cyberspace, a moral policeman determining “what goes and does not go on the internet.”

Computer analysts have been keen to see the fall out from this cyber skirmish as something of considerable magnitude.  According to Arbor Networks, a firm that earns its bread with protective programs against DDoS attacks, it was one of the biggest attacks on record.  “The largest DDoS attack that we have witnessed prior to this was in 2010 which was 100 Gbps,” claimed the company’s director of security research Dan Holden (BBC, Mar 28).

The response from such news outlets as the BBC was dramatic.  “Global internet slows after ‘biggest attack in history,’” seemed melodramatic, but it was based on the accounts of specialists keen to impress audiences about gloomy prospects.   Professor Alan Woodward of University of Surrey was happy to add to the image of global internet paralysis.  “If you imagine [the internet] as a motorway, attacks try and put enough traffic on there to clog on and off ramps.”  In this case, the traffic was so heavy, jams were likely.

Oddly enough, the portents of calamity have barely been registered by users and consumers of the internet.  Hardly anyone has actually noticed a more than usual sluggishness in services, and organisations monitoring the state of the internet found “zero evidence of this Dutch conflict spilling over into our online backyards” (The Guardian, Mar 28).

A more traditional approach, as reported in The Washington Post (Mar 28) would be to sever the internet cables altogether, an attempt of which was recently made by divers against Telecom Egypt.

Spamhaus claims that the attacks have been contained, and it has supporters from numerous large companies (Google, for one) that have an interest in spam filters.  The “slowing” has, for that reason, been far from noticeable. This would suggest that organisations like Spamhaus can withstand major attacks, while many governments and banks are incapable of doing the same, at least for now.

A redistribution of power has taken place before our very noses (and mouses), and the cyber teams in the employ of the state should start taking note.  The question here is what they should be guarding against.  This, according to Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin, is already being done in the US.  General Keith Alexander, head of Cyber Command at the Pentagon, claims that 100 cyber teams are at work defending mainly military networks.

Even given this cautionary note, when the proof comes out of this overdone pudding, we might find that this entire episode had less to do with cyber disruption than public relations.  One can, at least for the moment, place orders via Amazon with comfort.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

March 20, 2018
Jonathan Cook
US Smooths Israel’s Path to Annexing West Bank
Jeffrey St. Clair
How They Sold the Iraq War
Chris Busby
Cancer, George Monbiot and Nuclear Weapons Test Fallout
Nick Alexandrov
Washington’s Invasion of Iraq at Fifteen
David Mattson
Wyoming Plans to Slaughter Grizzly Bears
Paul Edwards
My Lai and the Bad Apples Scam
Julian Vigo
The Privatization of Water and the Impoverishment of the Global South
Mir Alikhan
Trump and Pompeo on Three Issues: Paris, Iran and North Korea
Seiji Yamada
Preparing For Nuclear War is Useless
Gary Leupp
Brennan, Venality and Turpitude
Martha Rosenberg
Why There’s a Boycott of Ben & Jerry’s on World Water Day, March 22
March 19, 2018
Henry Heller
The Moment of Trump
John Davis
Pristine Buildings, Tarnished Architect
Uri Avnery
The Fake Enemy
Patrick Cockburn
The Fall of Afrin and the Next Phase of the Syrian War
Nick Pemberton
The Democrats Can’t Save Us
Nomi Prins 
Jared Kushner, RIP: a Political Obituary for the President’s Son-in-Law
Georgina Downs
The Double Standards and Hypocrisy of the UK Government Over the ‘Nerve Agent’ Spy Poisoning
Dean Baker
Trump and the Federal Reserve
Colin Todhunter
The Strategy of Tension Towards Russia and the Push to Nuclear War
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
US Empire on Decline
Ralph Nader
Ahoy America, Give Trump a Taste of His Own Medicine Starting on Trump Imitation Day
Robert Dodge
Eliminate Nuclear Weapons by Divesting from Them
Laura Finley
Shame on You, Katy Perry
Weekend Edition
March 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Michael Uhl
The Tip of the Iceberg: My Lai Fifty Years On
Bruce E. Levine
School Shootings: Who to Listen to Instead of Mainstream Shrinks
Mel Goodman
Caveat Emptor: MSNBC and CNN Use CIA Apologists for False Commentary
Paul Street
The Obama Presidency Gets Some Early High Historiography
Kathy Deacon
Me, My Parents and Red Scares Long Gone
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Rexless Abandon
Andrew Levine
Good Enemies Are Hard To Find: Therefore Worry
Jim Kavanagh
What to Expect From a Trump / Kim Summit
Ron Jacobs
Trump and His Tariffs
Joshua Frank
Drenched in Crude: It’s an Oil Free For All, But That’s Not a New Thing
Gary Leupp
What If There Was No Collusion?
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: Bernard Fall Dies on the Street Without Joy
Robert Fantina
Bad to Worse: Tillerson, Pompeo and Haspel
Brian Cloughley
Be Prepared, Iran, Because They Want to Destroy You
Richard Moser
What is Organizing?
Scott McLarty
Working Americans Need Independent Politics
Rohullah Naderi
American Gun Violence From an Afghan Perspective
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Why Trump’s Tariff Travesty Will Not Re-Industrialize the US
Ted Rall
Democrats Should Run on Impeachment
Robert Fisk
Will We Ever See Al Jazeera’s Investigation Into the Israel Lobby?
Kristine Mattis
Superunknown: Scientific Integrity Within the Academic and Media Industrial Complexes