Today I have been reading on various sites about the DNS attack on Twitter last night. A group calling themselves the “Iranian Cyber Army” managed to change the DNS entry for the Twitter front page in order to redirect the domain to another site. On this other site they put up a badly photoshoped picture of a green flag, with most of the text in english, claiming they have “power” over the internet.
DNS attacks are nothing new. Several years back the New York Times was subject to this same kind of hack. Its a simple redirect of the main domain address. I honestly doubt the attack actually came from anyone in Iran, more than likely it came from some kids in the US, possibly of Iranian background. (Most Islamic organizations do not use English words for their titles – “Iranian Cyber Army” sounds like something a 15 year old American kid would cook up with his buddies.)
What bothered me about the NYT attack bothers me about the Twitter attack. Its the obviousness of the whole thing. Nothing was gained by the hackers. Within a few hours the site’s DNS was renewed and a little bit of press coverage came out. This kind of low class hacking is very teenaged oriented and not well thought out. When you do a DNS attack its as easy to fix as it was to hack. By putting up a pointless picture saying “WE HACKED THIS SITE” the hackers are just pointing out how cool they think they are to have hacked the site in the first place.
But the potential of a DNS attack is huge and the gains to be made are incredible if one has the wit to use the technology to its full advantage. What if instead of a shitty picture saying they hacked the site they had put up a page that looked exactly like the Twitter front page? They could have culled thousands of logins (names and passwords) in just a few hours. With a simply written bot they might have done this over a period of time, switching from the actual Twitter frontpage to their fake page at certain intervals in order to cull as many logins as possible. Once they gained the login access they could then start ‘tweeting’ as actual people, spreading a message subtly. (Not to mention that a huge percentage of people use their same login and password for all their online accts, bank, paypal, email, everything)
With the NYT hack the people responsible could have created a feed that took the actual code/content from the NYT server and reedited it to include certain pre written passages. Readers would have taken days to figure out that the stories had been altered. Millions of people could have been manipulated into believing whatever the hackers wanted them to believe. Instead readers saw a shitty picture, assumed the site was hacked, and went away.
The nature of the internet is that it has a huge potential as a tool for terrorism. It can be used to spread (dis)information, to alter information, to cultivate a following, to steal data and funding, anything is possible. What limits these hackers is their imagination. It must have taken a whole 5 minutes to create the image that the “Iranian Cyber Army” put up to replace the Twitter frontpage. If they had forethought and planning they could be cultivating data and doing a lot more damage.
What we witness when we see the kind of attack that affected Twitter last night is the amatuerish prank of children. But what happens when real terrorists figure out what can be done with the internet? We feel secure with our Facebook and Twitter accts, but what is security? The reality is that nothing is secure, real hackers are reading your emails, looking into your bank accts, browsing your purchases on Amazon. They know what kind of porn you watch, when you are on vacation, what you got your mistress for Christmas. But they don’t care about you, you are just a person, they are looking for something more. A bigger fish, so to speak.
The internet is increasingly becoming the battle ground for real war. Technology is replacing bullets and bombs with code and viruses. An email can kill as surely as a bullet, it just has to be fired off by the right marksmen. But when the terrorists attack us on the internet battlefield it will be average people who will be the victims, you and I will be caught in the crossfire.