This week North Korean cyber terrorists are believed to have attacked websites in both the United States and South Korea. While Americans and the world were saying good bye to popular late night friend, Ed McMahon, remembering Farrah Faucet, celebrating the music of Michael Jackson and pondering over future custody arrangements for Michael Jackson's three children, the trouble that has been brewing in North Korea like a poisonous cauldron finally boiled over and starting spilling out the world.
During President Bush's administration, threats of North Korean nuclear testing were bubbling and while the focus may have shifted under Obama's administration, the heat has never really been turned down. The North Korean threats migrated from big what ifs to very specific and human targets this spring. Two American journalists were held and convicted for "illegal border crossing and unspecified grave crime," with a penalty of 12 years of reform through labor.
North Korean Cyber Attacks: What Really Happened?
According to Johannes Ulrich, SANS Internet Storm Center's chief technology officer, the attacks began over the holiday weekends as Americans celebrated July fourth.
Targets in the United States included:
- The White House
- Department of Transportation, (DOT)
- Department of Homeland Security
- Federal Aviation Administration, (FAA)
- National Security Agency, (NSA)
- The State Department
- U.S. Postal Service
- U.S. Treasury Department
- Federal Trade Commission
- A Pentagon website
- A website for U.S. Forces in South Korea
The results of the cyber terrorists attacks, confirmed by officials, were that the Treasury Department, Secret Service, Federal Trade Commission and Transportation Department sites "were all down at various points over the weekend and into this week and some of the sites were still experiencing problems on Tuesday evening after the attack.'
The cyber terrorist attacks also affected South Korean government agencies and banks, leaving them with inaccessible or unusable websites.
"This is not a simple attack by individuals. The attack appeared to have been elaborately prepared and staged by a certain organization or state," Seoul's National Intelligence Service (NIS) said in a statement. The NIS also stated that, "US authorities were cooperating to track down those responsible for hijacking 12,000 personal computers in South Korea and 8,000 abroad which were exploited as vehicles for the attacks."
Cyber Attacks in Lay Terms:
The recent cyber attacks were called a "denial of service" or DOS attack. It is similar to the messages on web sites consumers may encounter when a web site is overloading, such as when visiting a coupon site or special event at a shopping web site.
What is suspected is that malware (malicious computer programmers), from North Korean cyber terrorists infected thousands of computers using Microsoft Windows with a computer virus. As a result, the cyber hacking programmer would be able to create a network on computers, or "botnets," that could be programmed to do whatever the programmer wanted. The technique used would be similar to that reported in Golden Cash Network Uses Bots and Zombies to Steal Information.
The collective computers are then directed to access web servers, in the same way you and I do when we access a website. The subtle difference is that with the use of spoofing, an IP -Internet Protocol address, just appears to be busy. The website keeps trying to send information requested repeatedly, which ties it up over and over again. In other words, it simulates an over-load. Then while the host servers and sites are busy trying to answer the fraudulent requests for information, new spoofed IP addresses are created over and over and the servers are no longer able to respond.
Websites such as the White House, Pentagon and New York Stock Exchange seemed to have managed the attack with out side effects since they are used to enduring high demand volume while they are also benefited by higher band capabilities as well. Unfortunately, other servers, such as the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Transportation went off-line.
In the simplest of lay terms, it is similar in nature to the phenomenon that occurred when Oprah offered the public a free KFC skinless chicken dinner. Hundreds of thousands of people went on-line to get the free printable coupon from her web site, Oprah.com and KFC's web site as well. The servers were overloaded for days, causing the offer to be withdrawn and changed and thousands of anxious consumers received the message that the website was unavailable. This is just one small-scale example that much of the public can relate to as a of denial of service attack.
Now imagine that thousands of such fraudulent messages are being sent to government computers that run staple services and securities for the citizens of the United States. While we may be disappointed in not getting out free chicken dinner coupon, the terrorist cyber attacks that our country experienced last week threatened the free world with so much more than missing out on a free lunch sandwich.
Jonathan Kraft is a recognized expert in helping people to understand Identity Theft prevention and protection. Learn more about the secrets used by identity thieves at the Identity Theft Secrets blog.
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