The Russian cyberattack on the world that wasn’t (again)

Summary: Here Constantin Gurdgiev tells the story of Mirai, the bot that terrorized the world. Confident reports by experts blamed Russia. As usual these days, that was fake news. Here’s the rest of the story.

Remember the Russian Attack on the Internet?

By Constantin Gurdgiev at True Economics, 16 December 2017.

In 2016, a bot, named Mirai, wrecked havoc over the global internet with massive waves of DoS attacks on anything, from French telecoms, to U.S. web services, to Russian banks, to African airports and beyond. Per Wired, “As the 2016 US presidential election drew near, fears began to mount that the so-called Mirai botnet might be the work of a nation-state practicing for an attack that would cripple the country as voters went to the polls.”

Of course, the minute there is any suspicion of the ‘nation-state’ actors behind the attack, we know that is the code word for ‘the Russians’. And, of course, given the sheer number of ‘security research’ lackeys eagerly awaiting for the U.S. or UK or EU dollars/pounds/euros in grants and subsidies, the ‘Russian’ spectre loomed large in the wake of Mirai havoc. Here’s a snapshot (IoT: internet of things).

But, in the end, the famous DoS attack was down to just three U.S. students {see below}. Which, sort of, begs a question: how many ‘security experts’ of the ‘Russian spectre looms large over everything’ variety have lost their lucrative contracts with the Government, the media and the think tanks that provide platforms to the endless Russophobic hysteria? My bet is: none. Like in the good old days of the Soviet empire, you can’t get fired for lying in Pravda.

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Minecraft

How a Dorm Room Minecraft Scam Brought Down the Internet
by Garrett M. Graff at Wired, 13 December 2017.

“THE MOST DRAMATIC cybersecurity story of 2016 came to a quiet conclusion Friday in an Anchorage courtroom, as three young American computer savants pleaded guilty to masterminding an unprecedented botnet — powered by unsecured internet-of-things devices like security cameras and wireless routers — that unleashed sweeping attacks on key internet services around the globe last fall. What drove them wasn’t anarchist politics or shadowy ties to a nation-state. It was Minecraft. …

“As the 2016 US presidential election drew near, fears began to mount that the so-called Mirai botnet might be the work of a nation-state practicing for an attack that would cripple the country as voters went to the polls. The truth …was even stranger: The brains behind Mirai were a 21-year-old Rutgers college student from suburban New Jersey and his two college-age friends from outside Pittsburgh and New Orleans. …

“Originally, prosecutors say, the defendants hadn’t intended to bring down the internet — they had been trying to gain an advantage in the computer game Minecraft. …

“As Peterson and industry colleagues …began to study the new malware, they realized they were looking at something entirely different from what they’d battled in the past. Whereas the vDOS botnet they’d been chasing was a variant of an older IoT zombie army — a 2014 botnet known as Qbot — this new botnet appeared to have been written from the ground up. And it was good.

“‘From the initial attacks, we realized this was something very different from your normal DDoS,’ says Doug Klein, Peterson’s partner on the case.

“The new malware scanned the internet for dozens of different IoT devices that still used the manufacturers’ default security setting. Since most users rarely change default usernames or passwords, it quickly grew into a powerful assembly of weaponized electronics, almost all of which had been hijacked without their owners’ knowledge.

“‘The security industry was really not aware of this threat until about mid-September. Everyone was playing catch-up,’ Peterson says. ‘It’s really powerful — they figured out how to stitch together multiple exploits with multiple processors. They crossed the artificial threshold of 100,000 bots that others had really struggled with.’ …

“Mirai shocked the internet — and its own creators, according to the FBI — with its power as it grew. Researchers later determined that it infected nearly 65,000 devices in its first 20 hours, doubling in size every 76 minutes, and ultimately built a sustained strength of between 200,000 and 300,000 infections.

“‘These kids are super smart, but they didn’t do anything high level — they just had a good idea,’ the FBI’s Walton says. ‘It’s the most successful IoT botnet we’ve ever seen’ …

“At its peak, the self-replicating computer worm had enslaved some 600,000 devices around the world — which, combined with today’s high-speed broadband connections, allowed it to harness an unprecedented flood of network-clogging traffic against target websites. It proved particularly tough for companies to fight against and remediate, too, as the botnet used a variety of different nefarious traffic to overwhelm its target, attacking both servers and applications that ran on the servers, as well as even older techniques almost forgotten in modern DDoS attacks. …

“‘Mirai was originally developed to help them corner the Minecraft market, but then they realized what a powerful tool they built,” Walton says. “Then it just became a challenge for them to make it as large as possible.'”

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Constantin Gurdgiev

About the author

Constantin Gurdgiev has MAs in economics and mathematics, plus a phD in economics. He is a visiting professor of finance at Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (see his faculty page).

He is a former editor of Business and Finance magazine. His TedX talk in November 2013 gave a widely acclaimed look at the future of employment and the ‘gig-economy’: “Human capital & the age of change.

See his Wikipedia entry and LinkedIn page. See his articles at Seeking Alpha, the Wall Street Examiner, and his website True Economics. Follow him at Twitter: @GTCost.

For More Information

Ideas! For shopping ideas, see my recommended books and films at Amazon.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about cyberespionage, cyberwar, cybersecurity — and especially these…

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  5. Stratfor untangles the web of Russia’s cyber operations.
  6. Secrets untold about the DNC hack, the core of RussiaGate.
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