The battles of political protest have gone digital.
In recent years we have seen the hacking community take up digital arms against oppressive governments and other cruel institutions. For many rebellion groups, political hacking is a preferred form of resistance because it doesn’t require squaring off against riot squads and for the scale of damage they can generate; just a few hackers can wield formidable power.
But just recently the Chinese government flipped the script and decided to do their own cyber hacking in an attempt to squash a ‘treasonous’ political organization in Hong Kong. The resulting DDoS was one of the largest and most sophisticated attacks ever created.
Digital Voting Comes Under Fire
This past June the Chinese government set its sights on Occupy Central, a political group fighting for universal voting rights for the people of Hong Kong.
Occupy set up a PopVote.hk voting website to hold an ‘unofficial’ election for the citizens of the city-state. This proposed ‘one person, one vote’ system operates in direct opposition to China’s current communist representative voting format.
But instead of drastic police measures, the Chinese government decided to hit Occupy Central where it hurt most—in their online voting system.
The Nature of the DDoS Attack
The Chinese government fought their political foes by unleashing one of the biggest DDoS attacks in Hong Kong’s history. At its peak the government was generating over 75 Gbps of malicious requests, not as much as some of the latest DDoS events, but certainly enough to cause some serious damage.
After two days of the DDoS barrage, two of PopVote’s DNS hosts (Amazon’s AWS and UDomain) decided to drop them from their services because they didn’t want their servers to be strained by the huge surge in requests.
Although it is difficult to make a direct comparison, this political DDoS attack appears to be larger than the infamous Spamhaus attack from last year. To give you an idea of the scale of the Chinese attack, the Spamhaus DDoS event was considered one of the biggest ever, and it maxed out at 120 Gbps—less than half the attack in question.
Preparing for DDoS
Cyber attacks are rapidly growing in magnitude and complexity. The PopVote incident serves to show that DDoS does not just originate from anonymous hackers in a basement—cyber warfare is becoming the preferred method for large-scale sabotage.
It’s also important to remember that technological advancements are making cyber warfare more appealing. Botnets, the foundational units in a DDoS attack, are rapidly increasing in size and intelligence. Security provider Incapsula recently issued a report that showed a massive 240% increase in internet botnet activity.
But governments and other highly visible institutions are not the only groups participating in this growing global battlefield. Small businesses, particularly those involved in Ecommerce, are becoming a favorite target for hackers as well.
PopVote was prepared because they knew they were likely targets, but most small and medium sized organizations often fall into the dangerous fallacy that because they don’t have enemies, they are not at risk.
The cyber security industry has noticed the growing need for protection for smaller scale online businesses. Top security firms offer flexible security options for companies of all sizes, including cloud security.
Whether politically or financially motivated, DDoS is a powerful tool in the hands of the wrong people. Make sure your institution is prepared for the new generation of cyber security challenges.