Security evangelist Sean-Paul Correll called the phenomenon “the future of cyber protests,” and a new report seems to substantiate his prediction of distributed denial of service attacks becoming a method frequently used by protesters and civil disobedients.
Historically associated with extortion, DDoS has morphed into an instrument used for various nonfinancial reasons, including political ones, researchers at Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard noted in their report.
Attacks that recruit participants in so-called volunteer DDoS have become increasingly popular, with the most recent example involving Anonymous, a self-described Internet gathering, who used the method to attack websites of WikiLeaks opponents.
However, although Operation Payback succeeded in calling attention to activists“™ political goals, it was “largely ineffective in disturbing the business operations of targeted firms,” the researchers said.
“It is worth noting that the Operation Payback attacks disabled promotional websites associated with the financial firms targeted, not their mission-critical payment processing systems, because those promotional sites are much less well-protected than the firms“™ core operational systems,” the researchers wrote.
The report also highlighted a trend in cyber attacks against human-rights groups whose opponents take to the web to disrupt and disturb campaigners’ operations. Between August 2009 and September 2010, the researchers found evidence of 140 attacks against more than 280 different sites belonging to human-rights groups.
“These attacks do seem to be increasingly common,” Ethan Zuckerman, one of the authors of the report, told BBC News.
While some attacks were triggered by specific incidents such as elections, others had no obvious cause, he said.
The report found repeated attacks between countries beyond the most commonly cited examples of
Israel/Palestine, Russia/Georgia, and Russia/Estonia. Such examples include China/USA, Armenia/Azerbaijan, Malaysia/Indonesia, and Algeria/Egypt. There were also many reports of attacks between Muslim and European or U.S. actors, the researchers noted.