Digital Transformation

Giant clash between Cyberbunker and spam fighters clogs the Internet

By Noel Young | Correspondent

March 27, 2013 | 4 min read

Millions of Internet users have experienced delays in services in a clash between a group fighting spam and a Dutch company that hosts Web sites alleged to be sending spam .

The New York Times said the row had "escalated into one of the largest computer attacks on the Internet, causing widespread congestion and jamming crucial infrastructure around the world."

It all started when the European spam-fighting group Spamhaus blacklisted the Dutch company Cyberbunker - based in a former NATO bunker - which says on its website that it offers hosting services to any web site “except child porn and anything related to terrorism."

The cyberbunker in the Netherlands

Previously, blacklisted sites have responded with denial-of-service attacks: Spamhaus gets so many traffic requests from personal computers that its servers become unreachable.

In recent weeks, said the NYT, the attackers hit back with "a far more powerful strike that exploited the Internet’s core infrastructure, called the Domain Name System, or DNS."

Attackers sent messages, masquerading as ones coming from Spamhaus, which led said the NYT to " torrents of data" being aimed back at the Spamhaus computers.

Patrick Gilmore, chief architect at Akamai Networks, a digital content provider, told the NYT that Spamhaus’s role was to generate a list of Internet spammers.

Of Cyberbunker, he said : “These guys are just mad. To be frank, they got caught. They think they should be allowed to spam.”

The attacks were revealed last week by Cloudflare, a Silicon Valley internet security firm that was trying to defend against the attacks and ended up as a target.

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“These things are essentially like nuclear bombs,” Matthew Prince, chief executive of Cloudflare told the Times . “It’s so easy to cause so much damage.”

The so-called distributed denial of service, or DDoS, attacks have grown to a data stream of 300 billion bits per second.

“It is a real number,” Gilmore said. “It is the largest publicly announced DDoS attack in the history of the Internet.”

Sven Olaf Kamphuis, an Internet activist who said he was a spokesman for the attackers, said in an online message that, “We are aware that this is one of the largest DDoS attacks the world had publicly seen.”

Of Spamhaus, which has been described as an online vigilante group, he said Cyberbunker was retaliating against them for “abusing their influence.”

“Nobody ever deputised Spamhaus to determine what goes and does not go on the Internet,” he said. “They worked themselves into that position by pretending to fight spam.”

Cyberbunker says on its highly professsional Web site that it has been a frequent target of law enforcement because of its “many controversial customers.”

“Dutch authorities and the police have made several attempts to enter the bunker by force,” the site said. “None of these attempts were successful.”

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