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Media sites brace for hacktivist attacks

Colin Neagle | Aug. 14, 2012
Traditional news companies and other websites covering this year's presidential election are preparing for a flood of web traffic over the coming months, and not just from political junkies. Politically motivated hacktivist attacks have become a top concern among companies providing election coverage online.

"The scale and the length of the attacks are growing exponentially," Hughes says. "It's growing at an incredibly rapid pace. What we would have considered to be a big attack a few years ago is now almost peanuts. The scaling up is going very quickly."

Years ago, common distributed DoS attacks would keep a website down for a few hours, in some cases "a day or two," Hughes says. Now, those attacks are bringing websites down for weeks at a time, including one case Hughes saw that put a website out of commission for 21 days.

"That's a hell of an attack," he added. "It goes on for a very long time, and 21 days would obviously kill any news media, in terms of operations."

However, contrary to what Wheaton has seen, Hughes says concern about distributed DoS does not necessarily translate into action.

"I'm not going to name any names, but I've come across a number of Western media outlets that are not prepared for this, and who basically admit as such," Hughes says.

He says many media companies recognize that they need to protect against distributed DoS attacks, but adds that "particularly at a time when advertising budgets are shrinking and so on and so forth, it's a difficult prioritization for them to make."

At the same time, politically motivated attacks may become more likely in the coming months leading up to the election, with the national spotlight on related events, such as the Republican and Democratic National Conventions beginning in late August.

"The Internet, what it fundamentally is, is a tool which empowers and can be used by those that are not in control of processes in a country," Hughes says. "And whether that be the Occupy movement, hacktivists, or 'Anonymous,' or whoever it is, they are using it as a type of tool to try and, in their view, level the playing field."

Though they've seen different trends to this point, Wheaton and Hughes agree that the standard website, be it for news coverage or campaign purposes, cannot protect itself from distributed DoS without some kind of assistance. The election only raises the stakes on those willing to risk it on their own.

"Those websites are really important when it comes to fundraising and communicating with their constituents and all those things," Wheaton says. "They have to be up 100% of the time and can't be down due to attacks by various protestors or organizers."

 

 

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