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Hackers Plan to Take Internet Offline on Saturday

We’d better hope the weather is good on the weekend, as hacking collective Anonymous has plans to shut down the internet on Saturday the 31st March. Every. Single. Website. (And yes – that’s tomorrow.)

In what would be the most audacious hack ever (I can’t think of a bigger possible hack than the entire internet!), Anonymous plans to use a Distributed Denial of Service to attack the root internet servers – 13 key computers that give websites their domain names (domain names are the web addresses of websites, such as www.norman.com, www.google.com, etc.).

The Plan

Known as Operation Global Blackout, the attack is to protest, “our irresponsible leaders and the beloved bankers who are starving the world for their own selfish needs out of sheer sadistic fun.” It’s a cause that many people would probably rally behind – if they could continue to access YouTube at the same time.

The plan is quite a simple one. There are 13 DNS servers that host the core databases for translating IP addresses – like 87.238.48.130 – into relevant domain names – like norman.com. All websites are actually hosted at IP addresses, while the domain name is simply an easy-access nickname.

Anonymous wants to bombard those 13 servers with traffic using a distributed denial of service attack. If the servers get too overloaded, they’ll crash and therefore be unable to fulfil DNS lookups – rendering all domain names useless.

The attack also adds what Anonymous are calling “Reflective Amplification” – a way to enhance the attacks effectiveness. It works by convincing the defending DNS servers that they are actually being attacked by the other DNS servers. The defending servers will then respond to the attacking servers, creating more traffic between the computers.

Think of it like a series of mirrors, with someone pointing a light at one and it reflects that to multiple others.

If the attack proves successful, the only way to access any site – including ours – would be through its IP (so remember: 87.238.48.130).

The Problems with the Plan

There are some problems with this plan, however. For one, most internet service providers make their own copies of the DNS data. That means it might take time – up to 48 hours – for the ISP’s DNS information to break.

And because ISPs already have correct data, they could restore it should any problems arise – totally nullifying the attack.

A second stumbling point is that there are not 13 root servers. There are 13 root IPs, backed up by hundreds of computers in over 130 locations around the world. And these computers dynamically share traffic, so it’s difficult to take even one down. Think of it like the Borg in Star Trek.

More details on the root servers can be found at the ICANN blog – it’s an interesting read!

So what do you think – will Anonymous manage to shut down the web? Or do you think the IT geniuses behind the web have built a resilient enough system? Only time will tell.

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