Could millions of connected cameras, thermostats and kids' toys bring the internet to its knees? It's beginning to look that way.
On Friday, epic cyberattacks crippled a major internet firm, repeatedly disrupting the availability of popular websites across North America and Europe such as Twitter, Netflix and PayPal.
The hacker group claiming responsibility says that the day's antics were just a dry run and that it has its sights set on a much bigger target.
And the attackers now have a secret weapon in the increasing array of internet-enabled household devices they can subvert and use to wreak havoc.
Manchester, N.H.-based Dyn Inc. said its server infrastructure was hit by distributed denial-of-service, or DDoS, attacks. These work by overwhelming targeted machines with junk data traffic — sort of like knocking someone over by blasting them with a fire hose.
Jason Read, founder of the internet performance monitoring firm CloudHarmony, owned by Gartner Inc., said his company tracked a half-hour-long disruption early Friday affecting access to many sites from the East Coast. A second attack later in the day spread disruption to the West Coast as well as some users in Europe.
Members of a shadowy hacker group that calls itself New World Hackers claimed responsibility for the attack via Twitter, though that claim could not be verified. They said they organized networks of connected devices to create a massive botnet that threw a monstrous 1.2 trillion bits of data every second at Dyn's servers. Dyn officials wouldn't confirm the figure during a conference call later Friday with reporters.
DDoS attacks have been growing in frequency and size in recent months. But if the hackers' claims are true, Friday's attacks take DDoS to a new level. According to a report from the cybersecurity firm Verisign, the largest DDoS attack perpetrated during that second quarter of this year peaked at just 256 billion bits per second.
A huge September attack that shut down of security journalist Brian Krebs' website clocked in at 620 million bits per second. Research from the cybersecurity firm Flashpoint said Friday that the same kind of malware was used in the attacks against both Krebs and Dyn.
Lance Cottrell, chief scientist for the cybersecurity firm Ntrepid, said while DDoS attacks have been used for years, they've become very popular in recent months, thanks to the proliferation of "internet of things" devices ranging from connected thermostats to security cameras and smart TVs. Many of those devices feature little in the way of security, making them easy targets for hackers.
The power of this kind of cyberattack is limited by the number of devices an attacker can connect to. Just a few years ago, most attackers were limited to infecting and recruiting "zombie" home PCs.