DDoS attacks are often seen as a global phenomenon that affects ISPs and large datacentres. But the daily damage is done by much smaller attacks on vulnerable, sometimes poorly defended resources such as websites belonging to well-known organisations. The UK has had more than its fair share of such attacks with hacktivism and occasionally extortion the main motivations. Here we chart some of the worst attacks that have affected UK organisations in recent years.
DoS attack on CMP Media (UBM) – 1998
Proof that simple denial of service (DoS) attacks (if not DDoS) are far from new, a disgruntled magazine subscriber decided to barrage the email server and fax machines of the UK tech publisher CMP Media (later sold to UBM) with enough traffic to cut the company off from the world for most of two days. The ISP identified the likely culprit but in 1998 denial of service attacks were a civil rather than criminal matter and remained so until 2006.
LulzSec ‘”Tango down” DDoS attacks – 2011
The group that gave the Anonymous movement its UK brand, the small collection of mainly British youths that hid behind the LulzSec moniker loved their DDoS. Several big UK organisations were targeted but the attack that downed the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) website in June 2011 was probably the last straw.
Alleged UK GCHQ DoS attack on Anonymous – 2011
In 2014 Britain hater and anti-NSA campaigning journalist Glenn Greenwald alleged that GCHQ Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG) unit launched DDoS attacks to disrupt chatrooms used by hacktivists from Anonymous and LulzSec. It was pointed out that this was really a targeted DoS attack and not an indiscriminate DDoS.
Attack on the BBC by Iran – 2012
Downplayed at the time but what hit the Beeb on 2 March 2012 was anything but for those on the receiving end. Downed the BBC’s email server for a while, disrupted its Persian Service (hence the blame being attributed to Iran, which hates the Service’s output) and even overloaded its exchange with large numbers of phone calls.
DDoS attack on Oxford and Cambridge universities – 2012
A single 20-year old individual – later imprisoned for a range of cybercrimes – was blamed for the DDoS attacks on Oxford and Cambridge University that disrupted their websites for a period of days in 2011 and 2012. It was never clear why the named man attacked the universities but the ease with which one person could cause so much trouble for large institutions was noted at the time.
DDoS on 123-reg domain registrar – 2012
A sign that DDoS attacks could take on even big Internet-facing businesses, in May 2012 the UK’s largest domain registrar was hit with enough traffic to take its site down for a reported 15 minutes with further problems throughout the day. Rivals were also targeted as crybercriminals tested their latest techniques against well-defended businesses.
Spamhaus 325Gbps super-DDoS – 2012
The massive 325Gbps DDoS attack on UK anti-spam organisation Spamhaus remains probably the second or third largest of all time and was even ridiculously said to have ‘slowed the Internet’. Later blamed on Dutch national Sven Kamphuis, the Spamhaus attack was the first to use a technique called DNS amplification to such sensational effect.
Julian Assange hacktivists turn on MI5 – 2012
Wikileaks’ founder Julian Assange was briefly a focus for anti-corporate rage, and his pursuit by the UK, the US and Sweden over rape allegations promoted a series of hacktivist DDoS attacks in late 2012. Predictable they might have been but also surprisingly successful – MI5’s public website was put out of action for several hours.
Manchester casino extortion attack – 2013
A rare publicised example of DDoS in the service of extortion, the attack on a Manchester-based online casino came after the business refused to pay the owner refused to hand over half the business to Polish nationals Piotr Smirnow and Patryk Surmacki. The pair were eventually arrested at Heathrow Airport tying to leave the country and later jailed.
Raspberry Pi Foundation DDoS – 2013
Not everyone likes the Raspberry Pi people it seems including a “lone sociopath” with issues. The individual concerned launched a flurry of bizarre grudge DDoS attacks on its website, with some success. The attacker even targeted a group of teens working on a 48-hour Python hackathon using RaspBerry Pis. The Foundation beat the attacks with the help of an understanding ISP.
Carphone Warehouse data breach DDoS – 2015
In July 2015, major UK smartphone retailer Carphone Warehouse suffered a serious data breach which, it later transpired, might have been aided using a DDoS ‘distraction’ attack. Up to one in five DDoS incidents are later found to be part of a data theft snatch in which IT staff are occupied fending off the DDoS, giving attackers more opportunity to sneak in and out.
Mumsnet DDoS attack by @DadSecurity – 2015
Who would attack a site as apparently innocuous as Mumsnet? In what must rank as the oddest ideological attack of recent times, a campaign group called ‘@DadSecurity’ is suspected of doing just that as part of a wider campaign of nuisance that included having an armed police team dispatched to the house of founder Justine Roberts. Came after earlier data breach in 2014.