If we were using the tornado magnitude scale to measure last Friday’s cyberattack, it would be an F4. After all, major websites like Twitter, Amazon and Netflix went down in the process.
But these sites weren’t hacked all at once. Instead, the attack targeted a single company: Dyn, a New Hampshire-based firm that monitors and routes Internet traffic.
At 7:10 a.m., Dyn experienced two denial-of-service attacks that flooded their system with fake requests for information. These attacks caused enough traffic to lock down Dyn’s system and take down the sites they support.
What caused the attacks?
Malware called Mirai, which was released on the “dark web” earlier in October, used internet-connected devices (like cable boxes, baby monitors and even toasters) to infect home and business networks. By using phishing emails, hackers were able to take over connected devices and create a robot network, which sent Dyn enough messages to paralyze their system.
According to Kyle York, Dyn’s chief strategy officer, Dyn was getting millions of messages from harmless internet-connected devices earlier in the month. These earlier attacks were either a test attack or individual hackers trying out Mirai malware.
How could it have been prevented?
While the companies affected weren’t the ones being hacked, they might have been able to minimize disruption to their sites by taking greater cybersecurity measures. For example, businesses with online channels should have multiple paths to route traffic. They also need to be aware of their vendor’s security practices and make sure vendor contracts call for timely notification of cyberattacks.
As individuals, we have responsibilities, too. We need to secure any home device that’s connected to the Internet. In today’s world, this includes cable boxes, TVs, DVRs, DVD players, coffee machines, baby monitors, thermostats — the list goes on.
Here are a few best practices:
- Once a device is connected to the internet, change the admin password and update it frequently.
- Keep software updated — with each update, the manufacturer is fixing known issues. For example, the next update will include a fix for Mirai.
- Don’t fall victim to fancy phishing emails. Check emails before clicking links or downloading attachments.
As we saw, an F4 attack is an incredible nuisance and can be dangerous, but it could be worse. It could be a F5 attack, affecting critical infrastructure like financial networks, energy grids, fiber networks and satellites. Imagine if an attack took out the power or caused your debit card not to work. Even more frightening, an F6 attack that could impair the defense network, impacting the security of our nation.
It’s important that organizations and individuals follow proper cybersecurity measures to ensure an attack of this magnitude never happens.