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A dispute between an anti-spam group and a Dutch hosting company is causing major congestion, leading to delays in reaching sites like Netflix. (iStockphoto)

Worst Attack In 'History Of The Internet' Threatens Web

by Krishnadev Calamur
Mar 27, 2013

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Krishnadev Calamur

There's a fight over spam — and it might be the cause of one of the largest-ever cyberattacks in history.

The two sides in the dispute are an anti-spam group and a Dutch hosting company that the group says is behind much of the spam on the Internet. The anti-spam group is the target of distributed denial of service attacks. The fight is causing major congestion, leading to delays in reaching sites like Netflix.

Here's the story behind the fight, courtesy The New York Times:

"The dispute started when the spam-fighting group, called Spamhaus, added the Dutch company Cyberbunker to its blacklist, which is used by e-mail providers to weed out spam. Cyberbunker, named for its headquarters, a five-story former NATO bunker, offers hosting services to any Web site 'except child porn and anything related to terrorism,' according to its Web site.

"A spokesman for Spamhaus, which is based in Europe, said the attacks began on March 19, but had not stopped the group from distributing its blacklist."

The San Francisco-based Internet security firm CloudFlare tried to mitigate the attack being directed at Spamhaus.

"These things are essentially like nuclear bombs," CloudFlare CEO Matthew Prince told The Times. "It's so easy to cause so much damage."

Prince called the attack "the largest publicly announced DDoS attack in the history of the Internet."

Here's more on the scale of the attack from Wired U.K.:

"The distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks are so large that, currently, they're peaking at a reported 300gb/s (that's three hundred gigabits a second) of data. For comparison, that's roughly a sixth the practical functioning capacity of one of the major transatlantic cables, TAT-14. Most people are judging this to be the largest DDoS attack in the history of the internet. Spamhaus's Vincent Hanna confirmed that this was the largest such attack aimed at Spamhaus so far, and confirmed that it could 'certainly' affect internet traffic elsewhere."

Update at 10:53 p.m. ET. Impact Of Attack May Be Limited

The tech blog Gizmodo has a long post in which it details why it is skeptical about the effects of the attack. Reporter Sam Biddle spoke to representatives from NTT and Renesys who said that while the DDoS attack was indeed bid, its scale was not global. Here's Gizmodo:

"Translation: nope. It was a Dutch problem, and that's it. Dutch ain't internet."

Correction at 6 a.m. ET, March 29: We mistakenly left a letter out of CloudFlare's name when we published this post. References to the company should now be correct.

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