Dyn & DDOS – is the internet broken & is your lightbulb to blame?

What is Dyn, and why were they in the news?

You may have heard on the news this weekend that a DDoS attack on a company called Dyn was causing intermittent outages across the internet. The problem illustrates a critical aspect of the structure of the internet. And it’s one that non-IT people rarely think about. Rather than attacking websites themselves, the miscreants were targeting the roadmap that directs internet users to the right place. It’s called DNS.

What is DNS?

DNS stands for Domain Name System. Essentially, it’s a series of servers, located all over the world, that direct website traffic to the right place on the internet. When you type in a domain name like “outerbridge.co.uk”, it actually corresponds to a specific IP address which is a series of numbers. Computers like to talk to each other using numbers rather than words, so “outerbridge.co.uk” is pretty meaningless to a computer unless it’s translated into it’s own numerical code.

Sometimes your computer will already know the IP address (for example, if you’ve visited the website before). If not, it will ask your internet service provider to check its database of domains and associated IP addresses. If that doesn’t work, then it asks a DNS server where to go.

Managing the DNS servers and making sure they are always accessible is a complicated job and a big industry. Most reputable companies pay someone else to provide this service, and Dyn is one such provider. Their DNS service was the victim of the DDoS attack today.

What is DDoS?

DDoS stands for Distributed Denial of Service. A DDoS attack works by bombarding a server with incoming traffic. Eventually the server is overwhelmed and shuts down.

For most large companies, an individual doing this wouldn’t be enough to bring it down. This is where botnets come in. Botnets are large groups of computers infected with malware, secretly, These computes can then be controlled remotely by someone else. So if you get a botnet of thousands of computers all sending traffic to one server, you can overload it. Although Dyn have 18 servers in total, multiple attacks meant that some customers in some regions could not access certain websites. This included major players like Twitter & PayPal. The problems persisted for extended periods of time.

What do lightbulbs have to do with it?

More and more devices with internet capability are being produced. For example, Nest thermostats, wi-fi controlled lightbulbs and home security systems. Manufacturers of these devices tend to focus on function rather than security. Consequently, they are relatively easy to exploit and use for cyberattacks. Dyn have confirmed that one source of the traffic for the attacks were tens of millions of devices infected by something called the Mirai botnet.

Is the entire internet in danger of collapsing under the strain?

No – Dyn is just one of many DNS providers. But cybersecurity experts are warning that it’s likely that we will see more incidents of this type.

What can I do to protect myself?

At this point, you probably expect me to say that if you have an Outerbridge support package then you’ve got nothing to worry about, but of course this is not true. Just like Twitter and PayPal, we pay a DNS provider to look after directing some of the traffic for our customers websites. All live websites are ultimately reliant on some form of DNS provider. Whilst we are using an extremely reputable firm, we cannot guarantee that our customers will never be affected by a DDoS attack. Nor can any other website hosting company.

One thing we can say though is that, if you have an Outerbridge support package, it is us who will be tearing our hair out at 3am and not you! Our customers can rest assured that we regard any problems of this type as our problems, not theirs. We will do everything we can to mitigate the effects of such an attack and find a solution for our customers.

For the ultimate in peace of mind and relaxing weekends, why not find out more about our support packages?

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