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Experts unsure whether Iran is behind bank DDoS attacks

Sophistication of attacks points to possible state sponsor, but there's no proof yet, say security experts

January 11, 2013 04:04 PM ET

Computerworld - Though U.S. officials blamed Iran for an ongoing stream of distributed denial of service attacks (DDoS) against major U.S. banks, security experts say there's not enough evidence yet to assign blame.

The security experts say that the attacks over the past few months appear to be very well planned and that the attackers have much knowledge of the weak spots in U.S. financial services networks, which could make them state sponsored.

Meanwhile, the ongoing attacks have reportedly prompted some banks to seek the help of the National Security Agency (NSA).

The Washington Post on Friday quoted an unnamed bank official as saying that banks are seeking NSA help due to a growing sophistication of DDoS attacks against them.

Earlier this week, the New York Times quoted a former official in the U.S State and Commerce Department as saying that there is "no doubt" within the U.S. government that Iran is behind the attacks.

A group calling itself "Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Cyber Fighters" has claimed responsibility for a series of DDoS attacks against several large U.S. banks including Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America and U.S. Bancorp.

The group claims to be based in Iran and says the attacks are in protest of YouTube's refusal to take down a trailer of the controversial anti-Islam movie that roiled much of the Middle East last year.

The DDoS attacks began last September and have shown no signs of abating.

If anything, the attacks have become more sophisticated and disruptive, said Scott Hammack, chief executive officer at Prolexic Technologies, a security firm that has been helping some of the largest U.S. banks fend off the attacks.

Unlike past DDoS attacks, the ongoing attacks are much more high-bandwidth and more frequent, Hammack said. For instance, Prolexic recently observed high-bandwidth attacks against two separate banks that were launched at the same time.

One of the attacks generated 75GBps of DDoS traffic while the other generated 45GBps. Such high-bandwidth attacks, which used to occur once or twice a year, have become almost routine, he said.

Unlike past DDoS attacks, in which attackers commanded hundreds of thousands of infected PCs to send streams of useless traffic to targeted systems, the latest ones involve thousands of comprised servers capable of generating far greater DDoS traffic, he said.

Whoever is behind the attacks also appears to be using so-called "push technology" to control the infected servers in real-time he said.

The technology allows attackers to turn on and turn off DDoS attacks and redirect DDoS streams at will, Hammack said. "They have a very good knowledge of what infrastructure to go after, particularly weak spots in the infrastructure," he said.

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