[Marxism] Unintended irony department
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
THE ZOMBIE HUNTERS
by EVAN RATLIFF
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 companys clients, a
penileenhancement business called MensNiche.com. The engineers, gathered in
the companys 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 companys senior network
engineers, wandered into the noc in jeans and a T-shirt. The MensNiche
attacker had launched an assault on the companys 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.
MensNiches problems had begun a week earlier, with a flood of fake data
requestswhat is known as a distributed denial-of-service attackfrom
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 Prolexics 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 byinterrogating each
zombie, trying to find a key to the attackers strategy.
Hes clever, and hes been trying everything, Claiborne said. If we ever
find out who it is, seriously, Id 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
Prolexics 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 Prolexics clients pass through this hardware. The
company, which had revenues of four million dollars in its first year, now
has more than eighty customers.
Lyons 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 dont work alone.
Its 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, its 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
Webs 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.
Its a mental game that youve 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 WarGamesa major influencehung
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 zombies path from
MensNiche back to a computer called NOCC.ior.navy.milpart of the United
States Navys Network Operations Center for the Indian Ocean Region. Well,
thats great, he said, laughing. Lyons next traceroute found that another
zombie was on the Department of Defenses 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.
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