A new software program that can trace the source of Denial of Service attacks -- such as those that shut down Yahoo, e-Bay, Amazon.com and CNN Web sites earlier this week -- has been developed by a North Carolina State University computer scientist.
A working prototype of the program is in operation now. A final version will be released within a month and is being offered free to interested parties. The system’s creator, Dr. Felix Wu, is an expert on network security.
The Denial of Service attacks on Web sites aren’t too hard to detect, but can be difficult to prevent, says Wu, assistant professor of computer science at NC State. A Denial of Service attack, one of the lowest-tech forms of hacking, works by flooding a Web site with more "packets" of digital information than the site can handle, preventing legitimate users from entering. It essentially causes an information log jam.
"We’ve known about the possibility of Denial of Service attacks for a long time, at least 20 years. It looks like a growing trend," Wu said. In the current wave of attacks, hackers compromised computer networks, turning thousands of individual terminals into "slaves." To begin the attack, the hacker simply sends out a trigger command, instructing the "slave" to repeatedly contact a Web site. Thousands of computers then become unwitting participants in the attack. Flooded with too much information, the Web site cannot function, costing the business millions of dollars.
Wu’s program allows Web sites to trace the original source of an attack. Wu has been working to develop the system for two years. His research is sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Program Agency. The program is jointly developed by NC State and MCNC, a Research Triangle Park corporation that supports advances in electronic and information technologies.
"Large networks like university systems and Internet service providers are the most vulnerable. They are very open computer networks," Wu says. He says system administrators need to decide how to protect their resources.
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