Russian bears blamed
By Dan Goodin in San Francisco • Get more from this author
Posted in Security, 28th January 2009 19:57 GMT
The central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan was effectively knocked offline for more than a week by a Russian cybermilitia that continues to flood the country's internet providers with crippling data attacks, a security expert said.
The attacks, which began on January 18, bear the signature of pro-Russian nationalists believed to have launched similar cyber assaults on the republic of Georgia in August, said Don Jackson, a researcher with Atlanta-based security provider SecureWorks. The attacks on Kyrgyzstan were so potent that most net traffic in and out of the country was completely blocked during the first seven days.
Over the past 48 hours, ISP have managed to mitigate some of the damage by relocating the servers of their biggest customers to different IP address ranges and employing a technique known as source filtering, which is designed to block harmful traffic while still allowing friendly packets through. Some media organizations and government opposition groups in the country of 5.3 million have not been so fortunate.
"If you're still one of those online media sites or you're still one of the targets by domain names, it's going to be hit or miss," Jackson told The Register. "A lot of the web services are still unavailable."
Representatives from Kyrgyzstan Domain Registration Service and a service known as www.ns.kg didn't respond to emailed requests for comment. The two services carry about 80 percent of the country's traffic, Jackson said.
The attacks are the latest example of geopolitical disputes spilling into cyberspace, a trend that's been growing in the past few years. Web and email traffic in Estonia came to a standstill in May of 2007 after civil unrest over that country's removal of a Soviet-era memorial was accompanied by attacks on the Baltic nation's internet infrastructure. Attacks on websites belonging to the Georgian government, on Radio Free Europe and cable television network CNN by Chinese hackers follow a similar pattern.
So-called distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, which flood a victim with so much malicious data it is unable to respond to legitimate requests, aren't the only weapon in the arsenal of politically motivated hackers. The Israeli Defense Force recently paid a Texas company that specializes in search engine optimization to halt the online backlash generated by its military action in Gaza.
Researchers from Arbor Networks, which monitors worldwide internet traffic for attacks and other anomalies, said they weren't seeing any malicious traffic directed toward Kyrgyzstan. Arbor's Jose Nazario said that was most likely because of a "visibility issue" resulting from the company "not tracking the right botnets."
The culprits in the attacks on Kyrgyzstan are most likely a group of technically capable Russian citizens recruited by Russian officials, Jackson said. The vast majority of the drones that are bombarding the Kyrgyz targets are located in Russia. The geographic concentration makes source blocking a more effective countermeasure than when the bots are scattered throughout the world.
Jackson speculated the attacks are designed to silence opponents of Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who are demanding the leader reverse his plans to close an airbase to the US military in its war in Afghanistan. The Russian government wants the base closed, Jackson said. ®