Steven Bellovin, a professor of computer science at Columbia University who researches network security, agrees that politically motivated DDoS attacks are becoming more common. He says the reason is that they are becoming easier to launch and more effective. “You can’t launch a DDoS attack against an enemy who isn’t dependent on the Net,” Bellovin says. “You also can’t launch one unless you have adequate network resources.”
A big problem with these politically motivated attacks, according to Nazario, is that it’s particularly hard to pinpoint who is really responsible. While it’s easy to determine which botnet is the source of an attack, it’s far harder to determine who might be paying for the attack. This is a big worry for governments looking for redress or retaliation, he adds.
Currently, the procedure for defending against DDoS attacks involves shutting off traffic from the attacker as close as possible to the source, and carefully managing Internet traffic heading for the target. This can sometimes be a delicate political process, however. Governments can hire experts and buy tools to help them deal with an attack, but smaller organizations, such as newspapers, might need to turn to their Internet service providers for help. “The technology’s there–it’s just a matter of getting access to it,” Nazario says.
While Nazario says that denial-of-service attacks can be serious, he adds that it’s important to keep them in perspective in the context of warfare. “It doesn’t compare to people dying on the ground,” he says.