The snarling attack between a European spam-fighting company (Spamhaus) and a Dutch hosting firm (Cyberpunker) spilled over to two major news publications recently.
On March 19, a spokesperson for Spamhaus announced that it was being attacked by Cyberpunker for being added into Spamhaus’s blacklist of companies that were sending out spam messages. Cyberpunker’s retaliation was to rain down a blitz of digital noise upon Spamhaus’ servers.
Over that week, the sheer volume of noise produced jammed up the Internet and caused widespread slowdowns in digital traffic around the world. Eventually, on March 26, two journalists from a major American newspaper picked up the story.
Quoting employees of an internet security firm named CloudFlare, which had come into the line of fire after trying to defend the attacks, John Markoff and Nicole Perlroth led readers to believe the attacks were comparable to a nuclear bomb. They even attempted to tie up a temporary outage of Netflix, a movie-streaming service, with the spam assault.
Three days later, on March 29, Heather Brooke sought to defuse the situation through an equally reputable British newspaper. She took the laid-back view that the attacks might not really be attacks at all but simply vested interests at work. Brooke’s primary source of information was Gizmodo, a website that reports on digital news.
While Markoff/Perlroth escalated the attacks to absurd proportions, Brooke sought to dismiss them with no original research of her own.
One of response
The fundamental issue here is one of response: what should one do when an event breaks out that isn’t immediately verifiable? Sure, scepticism is warranted, but one has to remember that it cuts both ways. Not wanting to believe a nuclear bomb had dropped on the internet is smart, but that doesn’t mean the other extreme is true. An attack had happened after all.
There were repercussions in areas like Denver (Colorado), near Mumbai, and in Doha — all with a Tier 1 network provider — resulting in greatly increased latency, and impacting downstream providers. So there was an attack, and it did have a noticeable impact. But it was far less annoying than screaming “internet broken” would lead one to believe.
On the other hand, some of the questions Gizmodo, and by extension, Brooke, asks are too trivial.
Consider, for example, this: “If the Internet attack really had happened, why isn’t my Internet slowing down?” Just because your internet and mine did not slow down does not mean it didn’t happen.
The Americans’ Netflix connection, however, was equally tenuous.
For lack of a direction to pursue such stories, understating is better than overstating. After all, the truth was considerably less dramatic: it lay between a nuclear bomb and “vested interests.” It just got lost in the imagined mushroom cloud.