Call me a spammer? I'll attack the Internet

A computer screen inbox displaying unsolicited emails known as 'spam.'

There's a good chance you've never heard of Spamhaus. The volunteer-run nonprofit functions as the self-appointed spam police of the Internet. That has caused many companies to turn against them. But none has rebelled so much against that blacklist as a Dutch web host named Cyberbunker -- named after the decomissioned NATO building it occupies in the Netherlands.

It says it will rent online space to just about anyone, except terrorists and child pornographers. Spamhaus says Cyberbunker's wide net includes spammers.

Cyberbunker retaliated to Spamhaus' spamming accusations with one of the largest attacks ever, and not just on Spamhaus. They’re attacking the architecture that makes the Internet run, slowing down connections for millions of people worldwide.

John Markoff wrote about the attacks for the New York Times. Cyberbunker used computer swarms, called botnets, to launch massive dedicated denial of service attacks (DDoS).

And while DDoS attacks have been around for years, this one stands out. Cyberbunker was directing data on the order of 300 billion bits per second, Markoff says.

To put that in context, “Even the backbone -- the Internet service companies -- they barely have that kind of carrying capacity,” according to Markoff.

What made this attack so remarkable was how Cyberbunker disguised all those bits of data. Most Internet service providers do not screen those packets of data on their way out of their system. It's easy for Cyberbunker to trick the system into spreading all the illegitimate data.

To prevent an attack like this, Markoff says that service providers could screen their data better. The fix is relatively simple. But, he says, firms have been “lazy” and haven't dedicated engineers to the problem.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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