DDoS attacks still pose threat to Internet

Wednesday, 5 November 2003, 11:13 AM EST

It has been little more than a year since a massive data attack struck the underpinnings of the Internet, and security experts say a more coordinated attempt could do even worse damage.

On October 21, 2002, people around the world cruised through cyberspace the way they do every day -- bidding on auctions, booking airline reservations, sending e-mail -- all the while unaware that someone was working overtime to try to bring the Internet to its knees.

Around 5 p.m. Eastern time, operators of the Internet's root servers, the computers that provide the roadmap for all online traffic, saw an unnaturally large spike in the amount of incoming data. It was a "distributed denial-of-service attack," a concentrated attempt to throw so much information at the servers that they would shut down.

Seven of the 13 servers went down completely, and two were badly crippled. In the course of the next frenzied hours, their operators tried to repel the attack as Internet users typed and clicked away with little idea that anything was wrong. In the end, the Internet held firm but nearly everyone who fought off the attack agreed that it came closer than ever before to sustaining major damage.

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