Major websites were inaccessible to people across wide swaths of the United States on Friday after a company that manages crucial parts of the internet’s infrastructure said it was under attack. Users reported sporadic problems reaching several websites, including Twitter, Netflix, Spotify, Airbnb, Reddit, Etsy, SoundCloud and The New York Times. The company, Dyn, whose servers monitor and reroute internet traffic, said it began experiencing what security experts called a distributed denial-of-service attack just after 7 a.m. Reports that many sites were inaccessible started on the East Coast, but spread westward in three waves as the day wore on and into the evening. And in a troubling development, the attack appears to have relied on hundreds of thousands of internet-connected devices like cameras, baby monitors and home routers that have been infected — without their owners’ knowledge — with software that allows hackers to command them to flood a target with overwhelming traffic. … The attacks were not only more frequent, they were bigger and more sophisticated. The typical attack more than doubled in size. What is more, the attackers were simultaneously using different methods to attack the company’s servers, making them harder to stop. The most frequent targets were businesses that provide internet infrastructure services like Dyn. “DNS has often been neglected in terms of its security and availability,” Richard Meeus, vice president for technology at Nsfocus, a network security firm, wrote in an email. “It is treated as if it will always be there in the same way that water comes out of the tap.”
Last month, Bruce Schneier, a security expert and blogger, wrote on the Lawfare blog that someone had been probing the defenses of companies that run crucial pieces of the internet. “These probes take the form of precisely calibrated attacks designed to determine exactly how well the companies can defend themselves, and what would be required to take them down,” Mr. Schneier wrote. “We don’t know who is doing this, but it feels like a large nation-state. China and Russia would be my first guesses.”
It is too early to determine who was behind Friday’s attacks, but it is this type of attack that has election officials concerned. They are worried that an attack could keep citizens from submitting votes. Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia allow internet voting for overseas military and civilians. Alaska allows any Alaskan citizen to do so. Barbara Simons, the co-author of the book “Broken Ballots: Will Your Vote Count?” and a member of the board of advisers to the Election Assistance Commission, the federal body that oversees voting technology standards, said she had been losing sleep over just this prospect.
“A DDoS attack could certainly impact these votes and make a big difference in swing states,” Dr. Simons said on Friday. “This is a strong argument for why we should not allow voters to send their voted ballots over the internet.”