Surge in web requests temporarily shuts down Trib Total Media website
Published: Friday, Oct. 11, 2013, 11:48 a.m.
A large volume of Internet traffic overwhelmed Trib Total Media websites Friday, preventing users from accessing them.
The incident started about 9 a.m. and lasted for about three hours, causing the Trib's websites to become unavailable or run slowly. The Trib reported the event to the FBI as a precaution.
Even after the website was restored, large numbers of readers were drawn to an online story about Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius visiting Pittsburgh on Thursday to promote a government website where people can shop for health insurance under Obamacare. A link to that story appeared on the Drudge Report website.
“We can't rule anything out,” said Mark McConnell, the Trib's director of digital operations. “Drudge contributed to it, but we got a lot more traffic than usual. It was almost like a perfect storm of activity that seemed to overwhelm our systems.”
The incident mirrored attacks such as those over the past year at major U.S. banks such as PNC and media outlets such as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
In those attacks, an adversary uses thousands of compromised computers to send an overwhelming number of requests to see information on a victim's website. When the attackers send more requests than the website can handle, legitimate customers are prevented from seeing the web pages.
A DDoS attack is “no different than any other type of random crime when you're walking down the street and someone steals your wallet,” said McConnell. “You can't see it coming and when it happens, there's not much you can do about it.”
A motivated adversary can launch a DDoS attack without having much sophisticated knowledge about computers, said Marty Lindner, principal engineer at CERT, a computer security research division of the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University.
The Trib's ongoing computer security investigation, Cyber Rattling: The Next Threat, reported on secret online marketplaces where hackers can purchase access to compromised computers to launch such an attack.
Computer security experts have voiced concern about the rising threat from these sorts of assaults, which over the past year have targeted major U.S. banks such as PNC and other media outlets such as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
“You have to figure out who is doing it and you have to ask them why,” Lindner said. “There's all sorts of different motivations. … Maybe someone doesn't like an article you put out last week, who knows?”
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