12:17 PM

Bank Attackers Restart Operation Ababil DDoS Disruptions

Some customers report difficulty accessing banking sites, but officials said DDoS defenses and service provider blocks may be partly to blame.

The hacktivist Muslim bank website takedown crew is back.

The Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Cyber Fighters Tuesday announced via Pastebin that they would resume their Operation Ababil distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks this week against U.S. financial institutions.

"During ... Operation Ababil Phase 3, like previous phases, a number of american banks will be hit by denial of service attacks three days a week, on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday during working hours," read the group's latest statement.

The al-Qassam Cyber Fighters last week issued an "Al-Qassam ultimatum", warning that unless all copies of the "Innocence of Muslims" movie that mocks the founder of Islam are removed from the Internet, it would commence a third round of bank DDoS attacks. "To warn and to show our seriousness for this, an attack string was carried out against some U.S. banks on Monday February 25, 2013 such as Bank of America, PNC, CapitalOne, Zions bank, 5/3, Unionbank, Comerica, Citizenbank, Peoples, UFCU, Patelco, and others," it said.

[ Anonymous targets Wall Street. Read Anonymous Launches Operation Wall Street, Targets CEOs. ]

This week, the group appeared to carry through with those threats. According to the Site Down website, beginning Tuesday, customers of Bank of America, Capital One, Citibank, PNC Bank, Union Bank and Wells Fargo began reporting an increased number of website disruptions.

One commenter on Site Down posted Tuesday morning, "Can not access Web site will not load...however...I CAN connect and log in using my iPhone. Strange." Another post read: "Site STILL down. Can we get a response??? am ready to take my banking elsewhere; this is getting ridiculous." Similar bursts of customer frustration were likewise directed at the other supposedly disrupted websites.

But have the banks' sites really been disrupted? BoA spokesman Mark T. Pipitone suggested otherwise. "At this point, we've had no issues on our end," he said via email.

Another bank official, speaking on background by phone, said that while many financial services websites are being targeted with DDoS attacks, people's inability to reach the websites is likely a side effect of the DDoS attack-scrubbing services and technology that firms now have in place, as well as service providers' own defenses. In other words, when a person can't access a banking site, it may be because their network, IP address or machine is being blocked by DDoS mitigation tools.

Furthermore, with a bank such as BoA alone counting 57 million customers, it can be difficult to tell whether the number of people who haven't been able to access a particular website on a given day has altered in a statistically significant way. Looking at BoA, over the past month the Site Down website received about 13 reports per day that the site couldn't be accessed. That number increased to an average of 18 per day this week, and 52 in the past 24 hours.

Of course, the combination of DDoS attacks and DDoS defenses does seem to be keeping some customers from accessing banking websites, even though the actual sites may still be up. That speaks to the scale of the website attacks -- and thus defenses in place against them. The attacks combine multiple attack techniques with massive scale, which has included maintaining sustained packet floods peaking at 70 Gbps and 30 million packets per second.

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