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1/19/2017
02:45 PM
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Protesters Called To Join Inauguration Day DDoS Attack

Protesters have been invited to flood WhiteHouse.gov ahead of Trump's inauguration to voice their opposition to the presidency.

The founder of Protester.io is calling upon people to gather for a cyberattack on the White House website to protest Donald Trump's presidency on Inauguration Day.

Tens of thousands of protesters are expected attend the inauguration in Washington, DC, tomorrow, reports NBC News. Meanwhile, hacktivist Juan Soberanis is taking the opposition into cyberspace by asking people who can't go to DC to help take down WhiteHouse.gov with a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack of sorts.

Soberanis, a software engineer from San Francisco's Bay Area, launched a Protester.io webpage to spread awareness of the attack. His call-to-action included the following, as reported by the International Business Times:

"If you can't make it to Washington, DC on inauguration day to protest Trump's presidency, you can still fight for the cause by helping to take down whitehouse.gov as a show of solidarity for the lives impacted by Trump's policy agenda," he wrote on the page, which has since been taken down.

Soberanis continues to explain how by overloading WhiteHouse.gov with visitors, participants can "demonstrate the will of the American people."

The site encouraged protesters to access whitehouse.gov on Jan. 20, 2017 and refresh the page as often as possible throughout the day. Soberanis provided instructions on how users could enable auto-refresh settings on their computers to drive activity.

This type of cyber activity would qualify as a DDoS attack, explains Amichai Shulman, cofounder and CTO of Web security firm Imperva. Most of these attacks, especially those conducted against Web servers, are made of standard traffic coming in huge volumes from machines or clients who are not looking for service or business on the site, but want to disrupt it.

"This would be denying service from people who actually want to get information from [WhiteHouse.gov], because it'll be jammed with requests that have no purpose other than filling the communication pipes," he explains.

It's difficult to tell how much traffic it would take to jam WhiteHouse.gov, says Shulman, because there is no public information about network bandwidth or any special measures the government has in place to protect the site this weekend.

He anticipates the White House will implement an anti-DDoS protection service to prepare for the inauguration. These services determine whether traffic is coming from a human being, or a script designed to generate high-frequency requests. They separate DDoS traffic from business traffic, so only the latter reaches the server.

Would an anti-DDoS service work against the type of attack Soberanis has in mind? That depends on how protesters try to flood the website.

If the attacks only consist of people manually refreshing their browsers, it's doubtful they would be able to generate the traffic needed for a DDoS attack, says Shulman. If they wrote a simple line of code that generated attacks in high frequency, they could drive more activity, but a protective service would pick up on it.

The distinction between manually refreshing a webpage versus creating code to automatically refresh it also marks the distinction between a legitimate and illegitimate protest, he says.

"If you open a browser and constantly refresh, that's a legitimate protest by a human being," Shulman explains. The use of software to generate a lot of traffic to a website lacks the same effort.

"To me, this is the difference between what's a legitimate protest, and what's just rude," he notes. In either case, the effectiveness of the Inauguration Day protest will not be measured in how quickly people can shut down the site.

"I think the success of a protest is measured not by whether you can actually block access to someplace or take down a server, but whether you create enough attention for your cause, and drive some change as a consequence of that attention," says Shulman.

The US government is no stranger to cyberattacks. Security will be a major concern for the new administration as attacks grow more persistent and complex, explains Kyle Wilhoit, senior security researcher for DomainTools.

"New methods of civil disobedience will likely come out of the woodwork, not only to combat perceived threats to personal privacy, but to also voice their concerns with political parties seemingly not aligned with the attackers," he says.

These methods could range from DDoS attacks from IoT connected devices, to large-scale attempts to knock world markets offline. Wilhoit also warns we may likely see an Internet-wide outage at some point within the next couple of years, which could cause political and financial problems across the globe.

Related Content:

Kelly Sheridan is Associate Editor at Dark Reading. She started her career in business tech journalism at Insurance & Technology and most recently reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft and business IT. Sheridan earned her BA at Villanova University. View Full Bio

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