Did You Help Attack The FBI & Justice Department Websites?
January 23, 2012

Did You Help Attack The FBI & Justice Department Websites?

Some unsuspecting computer users may have been unwittingly recruited to help the hacking collective known as Anonymous in their Thursday attacks against U.S. government and entertainment industry websites, security experts have reported.

The hackers launched a series of distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) on January 19, targeting the websites of the FBI, the Department of Justice, Universal Music, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), among others, according to Gregg Keizer of Computerworld and Elinor Mills of CNET.

Those attacks were code-named #OpMegaupload, Kit Eaton of Fast Company reported Friday, and began shortly after the Justice Department announced the arrest of four men affiliated with the popular Megaupload.com file sharing website, which has been shut down. Those individuals have been charged with copyright infringement, money laundering and racketeering, Keizer said.

So where does the general public become involved? Mills reported that Anonymous uses a type of software known as Low Orbit Ion Canon (LOIC), which instructs their computer to repeatedly try to connect to a specific website, effectively blocking it to legitimate traffic.

During the recent attacks, which in total targeted more than a dozen sites, the group reportedly used special JavaScript instructions that automatically redirected a computer user to a website that was being targeted by the organization, CNET added. The links, which were distributed via social networks such as Twitter and Facebook, as well as IRC, Tumblr, Pastebin, and other webpages, would instruct a computer to repeatedly attempt to access a target site until the Internet browser software was closed.

"The tool relies on JavaScript being enabled, and given how many Web sites require JavaScript, it's likely most of the people who clicked the links were unwittingly drawn into the attacks," Mills said. "It's likely that the tricky links increased the effectiveness of the attacks, which appeared to have impacted overall Internet traffic patterns, at least for a while, according to a real-time Web monitoring site operated by content delivery company Akamai."

Keizer states that Anonymous has claimed that the attacks were the largest they have ever launched, and that a total of 5,600 people were involved in the DDoS attacks. Due to the masked links, however, Graham Cluley, a senior technology consultant with U.K.-based antivirus vendor Sophos, told ComputerWorld that at least some of those individuals may have participated without their knowledge or consent.

"If you did happen to click one of the links, you aren't likely to get in trouble," Mills said. "For one, investigators might conclude that all the different IP addresses that hit the site during the attack were part of a botnet of compromised computers. And even if investigators suspected that the blasts from your IP address on the target site were conducted as part of the attack, it's unlikely that you would be singled out for a visit from the authorities, said Jennifer Granick, an attorney who has represented defendants accused of computer crimes."


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