At a closed-door Internet security summit in Estonia this week, a researcher will reveal new findings on the botnets behind the cyber-attacks on the former Soviet republic of Georgia that began last month and remains under way today. (See Georgian Government, News Sites Under Cyber Attack.)
Arbor Networks researchers Danny McPherson and Jose Nazario say that their latest findings indicate Georgia retaliated by waging some distributed denial-of-service (DDOS) attacks of its own on Russian Websites. The researchers found no evidence that Russias attacks on Georgia -- nor Georgia's responses -- were full-blown, state-sponsored cyber-warfare.
McPherson will present this new research on Thursday at the Internet Security Operations and Intelligence summit in Tallinn, Estonia.
At the height of the attacks last month, the Georgian government issued a statement from a temporary Website saying that its sites and some Georgian news sites were under a coordinated denial-of-service attack from Russia. The attacks started in July with a DDOS on the president of Georgias Website.
Nazario, security researcher for Arbor, says the Georgian presidents Website, Georgian ministries, and other sites there are still under DDOS attack.
And the researchers discovered a couple of botnets that have been DDOSing both .ru (Russian) and .ge (Georgian) hosts, suggesting that the attacks may be the work of instigators from outside both governments. We have further strengthened our feeling that this is non-state actors at this time. But we dont know why the botnets struck. Was it nationalism? Was it anger? Or was it for-hire? We dont know and we may never know, Nazario says.
The Russian-run Machbot botnet was behind the July attacks on the Georgian presidents site, the researchers say. Machbot is primarily a Web-based Russian DDOS botnet written in Russian, used by several different groups, but not widely available, says McPherson, chief research officer for Arbor. These were the first attacks we observed that appeared to be related to this conflict. Interestingly, the C&C [command and control] of Machbot is located in the U.S.
The Arbor researchers warned back in January that Machbot and other Web-based botnets from Russia could signal the arrival of larger and more politically motivated DDOS attacks worldwide. (See DDOS Botnets Thriving, Threatening.)
One of those botnets, Black Energy, was a key player in the Georgian DDOS strikes. At their peak, the Georgian attacks hit 800 Mbit/s, eight times larger than the attacks on Estonia. But the peak attack duration was six hours, which was shorter than the peak in Estonia, Nazario says. There were more botnets, it seems, than there were in the Estonia attacks, he says.
While the botnets waged brute-force attacks, the targets they went after werent especially sensitive, he says. Almost none of [the sites] were required for daily operations, Nazario says.
McPherson says he didnt see much volunteer bot activity, despite reports that some Russians were offering up their machines to DDOS Georgia. There were lots of invitations sent, as with Estonia, and perhaps even more. We didn't see any indication of a large number of these types of participants this time around, he says.
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