Net attack overwhelms computers with complexity

Tuesday, 3 June 2003, 10:39 AM EST

A type of internet attack that involves bamboozling a computer with specially crafted packets of data has been developed by a pair of US researchers.

Dan Wallach and Scott Crosby at Rice University, in Houston, US, say the attack can knock a web-connected computer offline with relative ease.

Many programs perform small calculations - called hash functions - on substantial amounts of data to make it easier to sort through. Tables of hashed information can then be referred to, to check that information has not been corrupted or lost en route.

Wallach and Crosby calculated that some data would force a program to perform the most intensive hash calculations possible. They tested a number of commercial computer programs and found that sending these types of packets could use up nearly all of a computer's processing power, preventing it from carrying out normal tasks.

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