Retail DDoS Attacks After Black Friday 50 Times More Powerful Than Last Year's

A few days after Black Friday, at least 11 major retail chains were hit with distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks that were at least 50 times more powerful than the strongest such attacks from last year, according to cloud hosting firm Akamai.

Akamai's figures were limited to the chains it hosts, so there's an excellent chance that other retailers were also hit by the group attacks. DDoS attacks by themselves are nothing new, but the extremely sharp increase in the intensity of such attacks is.

Right around this time, Amazon was very publicly hit with a DDoS attack by programmers retaliating against the E-tailer having cut off the hosting for WikiLeaks. But unlike fellow WikiLeaks targeted sites at MasterCard, Visa and PayPal—which all were crashed for brief periods—the extra capacity of Amazon's servers sustained the attack and didn't skip an HREF.

Amazon found itself in an awkward position, where it wanted to trumpet its Web victory but couldn't. And when some Amazon European sites crashed briefly this weekend, Amazon took the unusual step of telling Reuters that it was a service glitch. "The brief interruption to our European retail sites earlier today was due to hardware failure in our European datacenter network and not the result of a DDoS attempt," Reuters quoted an Amazon spokesperson saying. Amazon traditionally does not explain such outages—especially brief outages on a weekend night, which is exactly when you're supposed to do maintenance. ("Amazon.co.uk, amazon.de, amazon.fr and amazon.es were all down for more than 30 minutes until around 2145 GMT when they appeared to work normally again," the Reuters story reported.)

The unsuccessful attack against Amazon was unusual in many respects. First, the attackers announced beforehand their intent to launch a DDoS attack on Amazon, so the E-tailer had about as much notice as possible to prepare for the assault. Second, the cyber attackers actually offered closure by posting a note that Amazon was too well-defended and that they were officially giving up. (Wouldn't it be nice to see such a note from Al Qaeda?) The group's surrender note said: "We can not attack Amazon, currently. The previous schedule was to do so, but we don't have enough forces."

Speaking of unsuccessful cyber efforts, what's the logic behind the U.S. government's attacks on the sites hosting the WikiLeaks documents? Isn't it obvious that lots of cache copies are going to float around and that it will move from server to server? Why crack down on hosts when it will clearly only make the documents more desired and widespread? Not only is such an effort futile, but it's also quite counter-productive.

On those attacks shortly after Black Friday, the November 30 assaults sent site traffic "up to 10,000 times their normal daily traffic," said an Akamai statement. To put that figure into context, Akamai Senior Product Marketing Manager Michael Cucchi said the biggest DDoS attack from last year increased site traffic only 200 times those sites' averages.

Other than the traffic surges, Cucchi said, the sites quickly saw a radical change in the list of visiting countries. These retailers—which Akamai wouldn't name—generally had the U.S. representing the most visits, followed by Canada and then various European countries. But on the morning of the attacks, the top visitors were overwhelmingly coming from Thailand, Russia, India, Brazil and Mexico. "It was completely out of whack with their normal profile of visitors," Cucchi said.

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