A new report from Harvard University underscores the use of DDoS attacks to silence political speech, and what organizations can do about it.
It's no secret denial-of-service attacks have increasingly become a
mode of protest in the cyber-world, as well as a way to silence
political critics; but a new report from Harvard University's
Berkman Center for Internet & Society underscores just how much.
According to the report (PDF)
, 280 independent media and human-rights Websites
hit with 140 attacks between September 2009 and August 2010. Since
1998, the researchers counted reports of 329 different attacks against
more than 815 sites - numbers they estimate are only a small portion of
"DDoS [distributed-denial-of-service] is a pretty common form of
attack against human rights and independent media sites, and the volume
of attacks does not appear to be slowing," blogged Ethan Zuckerman
senior researcher at the Berkman Center and co-author of the report.
"The technique has been applied to a very wide range of targets and
appears to have no strong ties to any particular set of political
The publication of the report follows revelations about extensive denial-of-service attacks related to the WikiLeaks controversy
. During the past few weeks, hacktivists have targeted sites ranging from PayPal to MasterCard to WikiLeaks
According to the report, mitigating DDoS attacks will "likely
require moving those sites closer to the core of the Internet: inside
the small number of major ISPs, Websites, and content distribution
networks (CDNs) that have the experience and resources to defend
against these attacks, particularly network DDoS attacks."
Application-layer DDoS attacks can be strongly mitigated by
replacing complex content management systems with static HTML, or by
adding "aggressive caching systems to deliver content at the expense of
interactivity," according to the report.
"All organizations should carefully consider whether to host their
sites on a free, highly DDoS-resistant hosting service like Blogger,
even at the cost of prestige, functionality and possible intermediary
censorship," the report recommends. "Organizations that choose to host
their own sites should plan for attacks in advance, even if those plans
include acceptable levels of downtime."
In addition, the authors suggest the human rights community work
with Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and online service providers
(OSPs) to identify providers who will help protect sites from DDoS and
will agree to not remove controversial content unless required by law.
"We see no silver bullets for the independent media and human rights
community," Zuckerman blogged. "Our recommendations cover a variety of
technical steps that can reduce the impact of attacks. Ultimately, we
end up recommending building new social institutions that make it
easier for targeted sites to seek help from the technical community and
from large DDoS resistant hosting providers."