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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

ICANN indicts Asia-Pacific over attack

Global coordinating agency in charge of the Internet, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has released its fact sheet on the recent attack on six out of the 13 Internet root servers, and blamed hackers from the Asia-Pacific region for that assault.

Root servers are the base on which the Internet’s Domain Name System (DNS) runs. Each server contains a copy of the same file, refreshed and replaced twice a day, which lists where on the Internet all the directories for top-level domains such as .com or .net or .uk could be found. The file itself is actually very small but it acts as the Net’s definitive directory and without it, the single Internet that we enjoy now would be put at risk.

Champion Infotel, recalls that on Tuesday, February 6, 2007, between the hours of 12pm and 14:00 pm, approximated two-and-a-half hours, the system that acts as the engine of the Internet came under attack. This was repeated three-and-a-half hours after the initial attack stopped, this time lasting for five hours.

Thanks to the determination of engineers across the globe coupled with a new technology developed and implemented after the last Domain Name System (DNS) was attacked October 21, 2002, even as the attack had a very limited impact on actual Internet users.

Attacks on the Internet are usually orchestrated by faceless hackers. Hackers are software experts specialising in inventing programmable codes to be used on the Internet, which could be positive or negative, but dominantly negative in approach.

ICANN said the relevance of the factsheet is to explain to stakeholders what really happened and take note of such act.

According to the factsheet made available by ICANN’s general manager, public participation, Mr. Kieren McCarthy, the future factsheets is expected to follow a similar approach of providing clear and topical non-technical information about various aspects of the Internet in which ICANN is involved.

Equally, ICANN said, the attack was on the core DNS servers of the Internet which was hit by a significant distributed denial of service attack, otherwise known as (DDoS).

“In such an attack, billions of worthless data packets are sent from thousands of different points on the Internet to specific computer servers in order to overwhelm them with requests and so disrupt the smooth running of the Internet,” ICANN explained.

However, this factsheet, he said, provided the most important details of the attack and briefly explains how the domain name system works and the systems in place to protect it. He also said the factsheet outlined how such attacks were possible and profer solutions against future attacks.

Root servers are managed currently by 12 entities known as the ‘root server operators,’ including VeriSign Global Registry Services with two servers while others have one each, namely, Information Sciences Institute, Cogent Communications, University of Maryland, NASA Ames Research Centre, Internet Systems Consortium Incorporated, United States Department of Defence (DOD) Network Information Centre, United States Army Research Laboratory, Autonomica/NORDUnet, RIPE NCC, ICANN and WIDE Project.

Historically, 9 of the 13 root servers are originally based in the United States with four in California. The four outside the United States were based in Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

The executive summary of the factsheet stated that the Internet sustained a significant DDoS attack, originating from the Asia-Pacific region, but stood up to it.

Although ICANN acknowledged the fact that two out of the six root servers attacked were badly affected.

“The two worst affected were those that do not have new Anycast technology installed,” ICANN said, stressing that the attacks highlighted the effectiveness of Anycast load balancing technology.

ICANN also said that more analysis is needed before a full report on what happened can be drawn up, just as the reasons behind the attack are still unclear, pointing out that root server operators worked together in a fast, effective and co-ordinated effort.

ICANN further said that recommendations made last year for improving the security of the DNS still need to be followed through and probably strictly as well as other measures to be considered.

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