The Cyber Death Star is Growing
Scary as it sounds, someone is building a giant cyber weapon that could spell the end of the Internet as we know it. The evidence is compelling that the Cyber Death-Star is growing in power, but even more disturbing is the fact that the size and potency of this cyber weapon could grow almost without limits. The ‘who’ and ‘why’ of the situation is elusive (although there are indicators), but we can say with growing certainty that the future of the Internet as we know it is in jeopardy.
Resistance is Futile – You will be Assimilated
The recent Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) attacks that brought parts of the Internet to a halt are well documented. In September 2016, we saw the first glimpse of what has become known as the Mirai Botnet. Cyber Security author Brian Krebs experienced a full scale assault on his website with millions of devices spewing junk data in his direction. As the attack was analyzed, it became clear that many of the devices spewing the junk data were not even traditional computers. Many of the devices were part of the Internet of Things (IoT), which include connected devices as diverse as webcams to kitchen toasters. At the time, the DDOS attack on Krebs was one of the largest ever seen.
Not to be outdone, another DDOS attack soon followed to another target. In October 2016, millions of East Coast (US) Internet users experienced service disruptions reaching some of their favorite web sites due to an attack on the DNS provider DYN. This attack was again traced back to the Mirai Botnet, with strong evidence that it had grown even larger. Many new IoT devices became zombies, contributing to the botnet.
Then at the end of November, thousands of Internet users across Germany experienced days without reliable Internet access. The culprit? The Mirai botnet was growing again. However, this time it wasn’t IoT devices per say that were the culprit. It was home cable modems with recently revealed vulnerabilities. SANS has an excellent write-up on the NTP server exploit that gave the attackers access to thousands of new devices, thus growing the Mirai Botnet to a new record size. As the number of zombie hosts in the botnet grows, so does the potential power of the botnet to take down popular websites and Internet services (or worse).
Why? Annoyance or Something more Mischievous?
The Cyber Death-Star has a few purposes –
- To make money for it’s owners. It now appears that the Mirai botnet is being rented out to those who are willing to fork up a few thousand dollars.
- To disrupt commerce. We have already seen the impact on commerce from the DYN attack back in October. It’s hard to put a price tag on attacks like these, as quantifying the lost opportunity cost is very tricky. We can comfortably say that the Cyber Death-Star has easily disrupted millions of dollars worth of transactions and can easily be programmed to disrupt millions of more dollars of commerce.
- To silence free speech. Brian Krebs experienced the loss of free speech from his website in September due to the attack.
- To attack critical infrastructure. Core Internet Provider routers have handled the Mirai botnet attacks quite well up to this point. However, as the number of zombie devices grows, the amount of junk data the botnet spews out will also grow. It is possible that the botnet will reach such a size that it will be capable of disrupting core Internet infrastructure. In addition to Internet infrastructure, the botnet could be turned toward physical infrastructure (water treatment plants, local governments, the electric grid, etc.) to disrupt critical services.
What can you do?
You may not be aware, but your devices could be part of this giant Cyber Death-Star. With more and more devices online these days, it’s increasingly difficult to keep all security vulnerabilities patched. Here are some ways to avoid being part of the problem-
- Update the software/firmware on all of your devices (not just computers!).
- If you notice strange behavior (i.e. your home internet connection is quite slow), it’s worth a call to your ISP to check to see if your devices are spewing out junk data.
- Shields up – Ensure that your home router has a firewall to help protect your devices from potential attack – and then make sure your home router has the latest software updates!
The Cyber Death-Star is a growing problem worth tracking closely. Unless Luke Skywalker shows up to make an impossible shot at the Cyber Death-Star with his X-Wing fighter, we will likely see many more DDOS attacks in the coming months, so buckle your seat belts!