[Marxism] Unintended irony department

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Oct 3 07:40:31 MDT 2005

(Here's an article from the seriously degraded New Yorker magazine about 
Internet criminals who try to extort money from an "Internet-security" firm 
whose clients are involved with penile enlargement!)

New Yorker Magazine, October 10, 2005
On the trail of cyberextortionists.

One afternoon this spring, a half-dozen young computer engineers sat in the 
headquarters of Prolexic, an Internet-security company in Hollywood, 
Florida, puzzling over an attack on one of the company’s clients, a 
penileenhancement business called MensNiche.com. The engineers, gathered in 
the company’s network operations center, or noc, on the fourth floor of a 
new office building, were monitoring Internet traffic on fifty-inch 
wall-mounted screens. Anna Claiborne, one of the company’s senior network 
engineers, wandered into the noc in jeans and a T-shirt. The MensNiche 
attacker had launched an assault on the company’s Web site at 4 a.m., and 
Claiborne had spent the night in the office fending it off. “Hence,” she 
said, “I look like hell today.”

MensNiche’s problems had begun a week earlier, with a flood of fake data 
requests—what is known as a distributed denial-of-service attack—from 
computers around the world. Although few, if any, of those computers’ 
owners knew it, their machines had been hijacked by hackers; they had 
become what programmers call “zombies,” and had been set loose on 
MensNiche. The result was akin to what occurs when callers jam the phone 
lines during a television contest: with so many computers trying to 
connect, almost none could get through, and the company was losing business.

The first wave of the attack was easily filtered by Prolexic’s automated 
system. The assailant then disguised his zombies as legitimate Web users, 
fooling the filters so well that Claiborne refused to tell me how it was 
done, for fear that others would adopt the same tactic. She spent the night 
examining the requests one by one as they scrolled by—interrogating each 
zombie, trying to find a key to the attacker’s strategy.

“He’s clever, and he’s been trying everything,” Claiborne said. “If we ever 
find out who it is, seriously, I’d be willing to buy a plane ticket, fly 
over, and punch him in the face.”

Prolexic, which was founded in 2003 by a twenty-seven-year-old college 
dropout named Barrett Lyon, is a twenty-four-hour, seven-days-a-week 
operation. An engineer is posted in the noc at all times, to monitor 
Prolexic’s four data hubs, which are in Phoenix, Vancouver, Miami, and 
London. The hubs contain powerful computers designed to absorb the brunt of 
data floods and are, essentially, massive holding pens for zombies. Any 
data travelling to Prolexic’s clients pass through this hardware. The 
company, which had revenues of four million dollars in its first year, now 
has more than eighty customers.

Lyon’s main business is protecting his clients from cyberextortionists, who 
demand payments from companies in return for leaving them alone. Although 
Lyon is based in Florida, the attackers he deals with might be in 
Kazakhstan or China, and they usually don’t work alone.

“It’s an insanely stressful job,” Claiborne told me. “You are the middleman 
between people who are losing thousands or millions of dollars and somebody 
who really wants to make that person lose thousands or millions of 
dollars.” When the monitors’ graphs begin to spike, indicating that an 
attack is under way, she said, “it’s like looking at the ocean and seeing a 
wall of water three hundred feet high coming toward you.”

Only a few years ago, online malfeasance was largely the province of either 
technically adept hackers (or “crackers,” as ill-intentioned hackers are 
known), who were in it for the thrill or for bragging rights, or novices 
(called “script kiddies”), who unleashed viruses as pranks. But as the 
Web’s reach has expanded real-world criminals have discovered its 
potential. Mobsters and con men, from Africa to Eastern Europe, have gone 
online. Increasingly, cyberextortionists are tied to gangs that operate in 
several countries and hide within a labyrinth of anonymous accounts.

“When the attack starts, the ticker starts for that company,” Lyon said. 
“It’s a mental game that you’ve been playing, and if you make a mistake it 
causes the whole thing to go down. You are terrified.”

Lyon, as usual, was wearing shorts and flip-flops. He has blond hair and a 
trim build, with narrow hazel eyes that were framed by dark circles of 
fatigue. A poster for the 1983 movie “WarGames”—a major influence—hung 
above his desk, on which were four computer monitors: one for writing 
program code, one for watching data traffic, one for surfing the Web, and 
one for chatting with customers. Lyon leaned over and showed me a program 
that he had created to identify the zombies attacking MensNiche. When he 
ran it, a list of countries scrolled up the screen: the United States, 
China, Cambodia, Haiti, even Iraq.

Examining the list of zombie addresses, Lyon picked one and ran a command 
called a “traceroute.” The program followed the zombie’s path from 
MensNiche back to a computer called NOCC.ior.navy.mil—part of the United 
States Navy’s Network Operations Center for the Indian Ocean Region. “Well, 
that’s great,” he said, laughing. Lyon’s next traceroute found that another 
zombie was on the Department of Defense’s Military Sealift Command network. 
The network forces of the United States military had been conscripted in an 
attack on a Web site for penis enlargement.

full: http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/articles/051010fa_fact



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