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8/7/2009
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DDoS Attacks On Twitter, Facebook Result Of Massive Attack On One Person

Botnet attack takes aim at pro-Georgian blogger and leaves collateral damage on social networking sites

It turns out yesterday's major distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks that shut down Twitter for hours and disrupted Facebook and LiveJournal came out of a targeted attack waged against one individual with accounts on all of the sites.

A pro-Georgian blogger called "Cyxymu" was apparently the intended target of the massive DDoS that knocked down Twitter and caused major slowdowns on Facebook and LiveJournal when a botnet apparently blasted waves of traffic at his accounts on the sites simultaneously in an effort to shut down his communiques.

Cyxymu tweeted yesterday on his Twitter profile that the attackers were "Russian KGB." The blogger, who later unmasked himself to CNN as "George," 34, of Tbilisi, Georgia, told the cable giant that his recent blog posts may have triggered the attacks. One post, he told CNN, discussed "how Russia was preparing military aggression (sic) against Georgia, how they were training soldiers and mobilizing military equipment, what kind of provocations were carried out by the separatists prior to the war," according to the CNN report. He also said the attacks were timed to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the Russia-Georgia conflict.

As of this morning, Cyxymu's LiveJournal site was still down.

Various reports attributed the attack to an email spam run gone wild, but security experts dismissed that theory, saying it had to be a coordinated attack from bots. "There's no way that simply spamming out email containing the links would generate that kind of traffic to the social networking sites. There simply wouldn't be enough people who would click on the links to create a DDoS," says Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos. "So this must have been a 'traditional' DDoS attack from compromised computers [that] could hammer the Websites with multiple requests every few seconds."

Twitter acknowledged it was working with other services on "what appears to be a single, massively coordinated attack. As to the motivation behind this event, we prefer not to speculate." It said no user data was compromised.

Facebook confirmed the attacks were going after one person: "Yesterday's attack appears to be directed at an individual who has a presence on a number of sites, rather than the sites themselves. Specifically, the person is an activist blogger and a botnet was directed to request his pages at such a rate that it impacted service for other users. We've isolated the issue and almost all of our users are able to enjoy the normal Facebook experience," the company said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Facebook's chief security officer, Max Kelly, is quoted in another report: "It was a simultaneous attack across a number of properties targeting him to keep his voice from being heard," he told CNET.

And from the blog of Mikko Hypponen, chief research officer for F-Secure: "Whoever is behind this attack, they had significant bandwidth available. Our best guess is that these attacks were done by nationalistic Russian hackers who wanted to silence a visible online opponent. While doing that, they've only managed to attract more attention to Cyxymu and his message."

In addition to the DDoS attacks on Cyxymu's Twitter, Facebook, and LiveJournal accounts, Hypponen says the blogger's YouTube account was DDoS'ed, and he was also targeted by a so-called "Joe Job'"spamming attack with email purported to be from "George" and trying to lure users to his blog on LiveJournal.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message.

Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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