Do people worry about cyber attacks if their data is safe? As it turns out, yes. As our behaviour changes to adapt to technology, we have expectations of how we think our technology should behave. With Friday’s cyber attack, some of the world’s most popular websites were unavailable, letting down global internet user’s experience. And user experience is the number one priority online. It determines how we find things, what we buy, how we interact with one another and increasingly affects our everyday lives on a basic level as we rely on machines more and more. For more information on user trust, see our blog post here.
Twitter is probably one of the biggest websites affected. No passwords were stolen or accounts hacked, but Twitter, Reddit, Spotify, Etsy and other sites were unavailable for use as the lines were scrambled from behind the scenes from PayPal to Pinterest.
Hackers used a type of malware called Mirai, to turn technology against the internet. They targeted a company in North America known a Dyn, founded in 1998, which claims that “eight of the top 10 internet services / retail companies in the Fortune 500” use its services. Dyn provides a service known as Domain Name System or DNS, which is effectively the navigation system of the internet, enabling your browser to connect with the website that you want to reach. Dyn has not yet spoken of the source of the attack, but security analysts at a company called Flashlight have experience of similar previous attacks from household smart gadgets which connect us to the Internet of Things.
Geek mode: You type a URL into your browser to access a specific website but your screen can only connect you to the correct website once the URL is translated into a numerical code called an IP address. The DNS translates URLs into IP addresses. Many of the larger websites that you may visit are hosted between many servers around the world and are connected by DNS, to give you the quickest, most relevant information and best usability.
By targeting Dyn, the process that directs you to your desired site was disrupted.
Your browser just can’t figure out where it needs to go when you request a site via URL without the DNS switchboard, making your request lost in translation. This is different from hosting. To read our blog on hosting, click here.
In this case, the attackers used a technique called distributed denial of service, or DDoS to bring down Dyn, making Spotify and other sites inaccessible. DDoS attacks use huge networks of malicious software called botnets to overwhelming a service and bring it down. This works in the same way that websites crash because of unexpected increased volumes of traffic, and are designed to intentionally bring down services in the same way. This time organised botnet networks threw 1.2 terabits per second of data at the Dyn-managed servers.
What does this mean?
It means that technology developers like Samsung, Amazon and Google will have to ensure that new technology which we now incorporate into our everyday lives on evolving devices like Alexa, Dash and the connected appliances like Nest, have tougher security. Yes, your central heating and baby monitors will need safety barriers to prevent this from happening again, too.
Is the future safe?
The internet is an ever evolving organism, which much like our human body relies on certain systems to maintain optimal function. The good news is that like the way vaccination works by preparing our immune system, we only know what risks or infections could occur and cause us harm by being exposed to them. In terms of the internet, someone found a way to ‘hack the system’ that developers and innovators were not expecting. With more attacks comes better protection and reduces the ways in which the internet may be harmed in the future, giving us much more reliable service, devices and a more efficient way of life.