"Destroy Obama Care!"
That's the not-so-subtle name of a homegrown distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack tool that's being advertised for download on some social networks, and which promises to overwhelm the Healthcare.gov website.
"This program continually displays alternate page of the ObamaCare website. It has no virus, Trojans, worms, or cookies. The purpose is to overload the ObamaCare website, to deny serivce [sic] to users and perhaps overload and crash the system," reads the program's grammar- and spelling-challenged "about" screen. "You can open as many copies of this program as you want. Each copy opens multiple links to the site."
"ObamaCare is an affront to the Constitutional rights of the people," it adds. "We HAVE the right to CIVIL disobedience!"
This is hardly the first DDoS attack tool designed to right perceived political wrongs, according to Marc Eisenbarth, research manager at DDoS defense firm Arbor Networks. "This application continues a trend [Arbor] is seeing with denial-of-service attacks being used as a means of retaliation against a policy, legal rulings or government actions," he said in a blog post.
Indeed, by 2011, Arbor was reporting that half of all DDoS attacks seemed to be driven by ideological motives. Some recent examples have included attacks against everyone from U.S. financial institutions and the Vaticanto Mexican drug cartels and North Korean government sites.
In this case, the anti-Obamacare DDoS tool, which is written in Delphi, is designed to launch numerous layer seven -- application-layer -- requests to the Affordable Care Act website (www.healthcare.gov) as well as the site's contact page (www.healthcare.gov/contact-us). The intent is to overwhelm the sites with traffic, making them inaccessible to would-be insurance buyers.
Could this attack application be the nail in the coffin for the Healthcare.gov insurance exchange website, which has faced a rocky launch since its Oct. 1 rollout? The fallout from the botched launch has already lead to the CIO of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services deciding to defect to the "private sector"for an undisclosed position, and President Obama continually promising that the site's kinks will soon be worked out.
Eisenbarth said this DDoS tool most likely can't deliver what it promises. "The request rate, the non-distributed attack architecture and many other limitations make this tool unlikely to succeed in affecting the availability of the healthcare.gov site," he said. Furthermore, he noted that to date, Arbor has seen no "active use of this software."
In part, the tool's apparent inability to take down targeted Healthcare.gov websites demonstrates how grassroots DDoS attacks often face an uphill battle, owing to either technical problems or a lack of a critical mass of participants. Indeed, even some past, large-scale DDoS attacks launched by the hacktivist collective Anonymous didn't succeed in overwhelming targeted sites until -- reportedly -- bot-master benefactors temporarily brought legions of "zombie" PCs to bear on targeted sites.
What of the "Destroy Obama Care!" tool's premise that it allows users to exercise their right to civil disobedience? On this front, the tool's author has read his or her U.S. legal code incorrectly. Indeed, U.S. law enforcement agencies have vigorously prosecuted people who launch DDoS attacks against any website.
For example, after a DDoS tool called Low Orbit Ion Cannon(LOIC) was released under the Anonymous banner in 2010, many users found out -- the hard way -- that the tool didn't mask their IP address. As a result, when users turned the tool on websites designated for attack by Anonymous IRC chat-room operators during Operation Payback, many inadvertently transmitted not only attack packets, but their IP address.
In short order, attacked businesses -- which included MasterCard, PayPal and Visa -- reportedly shared their network logs with the FBI, which traced the IP addresses back to service providers' subscribers, and began arresting suspected LOIC users. Those arrests have been ongoing, and last month, the Department of Justice indicted 13 more men who allegedly used LOIC in 2010 and 2011 as part of Operation Payback.