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Zombie DOS Attacks Support WikiLeaks

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Being made up largely of self-proclaimed anarchists or at least people who distrust authority and honor truth, hackers have recently targeted banks and financial institutions which have refused to transfer funds to WikiLeaks.

First, you should know that, although these attacks are mainly directed at credit card companies. They are not attempts to hack the actual sites and endanger your credit card information.

Rather, what is happening is that hackers are using large numbers of computers to "ping" or otherwise send messages to or try to log on to or overload the sites.

This vast flood of electronic requests is intended to overwhelm the capacity of the servers and result in slower performance or even a complete shutdown of the site. That sort of thing also happens accidentally when a small site suddenly becomes widely known.

It is important to understand this distinction. The hackers are not trying to steal your financial information. Instead they are conducting the electronic equivalent of picketing the companies, getting in the way of customers wishing to use the service.

It is also important in the interest of full disclosure to understand that WikiLeaks itself has been under similar DoS attacks in the past.

WikiLeaks operators say that they are not involved in the DoS attacks and that is also the strong consensus of opinion in the online hacker community. This is being done by WikiLeaks supporters, not by WikiLeaks itself, probably because they are so busy publishing what many countries do not want disclosed.

These attacks are common when some company or government agency particularly annoys a large number of hackers and the aim is actually similar to telegram, email, and phone calls flooding a politician's office to express their opinions but conducted by people more comfortable with pushing bits and bytes rather than telephoning or re-mailing pre-printed complaint or support letters to their Congressperson.

The hackers are able to commandeer vast numbers of personal computers by inserting a virus or worm which does little more than run in the background and send requests to the target site.

The owner/user of the computer is usually completely unaware of the existence of this code or that their computer is part of the attack because it generally runs in the background and only slightly affects the computer's performance.

Updated anti-virus software will generally block or clear out this code which is only incidentally using personal computers such as this one you are using to read the story.

Taking over the computers and using them is something generally termed turning them into zombies, hence these attacks are "zombie DoS" (Denial of Service) attacks and seldom cause any real problem for the personal computers being unwittingly used.

PING: Ping is one of the old DOS (Disk Operating System) commands which still exists in the background on Windows computers. The function of ping is to merely see if a site exists and measure how long it takes to contact it over the Internet. XP users, for example would find it by pressing the "start" button and "running" the term CMD which gives Windows users direct access to the underlying DOS computer operating system which Windows runs on top of.

When you get the old command line, you would use Ping or any of the old DOS commands such as DIR or any of the others in the standar way.

For example PING URL.URL would send four messages to that Web site requesting a return message. That message would include the digital URL designation of that site along with how long it takes to send 32 bytes of information to the site and get a reply (normally in the area of 1000+ milliseconds. Ping exists as an old diagnostic tool from when the Internet was still largely experimental.

TRON (the old and current movies) simply stands for TRace ON and has the equivalent of TROFF which first became widely known for its use on the old Tandy ColorComputer.

Both are diagnostic tools to aid BASIC programmers. (BASIC being far from a basic programming language because it stands for Beginners All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code which encourages the use of that major sin of programming, the "Go To" command.

John McCormick is a reporter, /science/medical columnist and finance and social commentator, with 17,000+ bylined stories. As a long-time computer security writer and consultant he has been an invited speaker at hacker conferences and for years wrote a security column for a CNET-owned website. Contact John through NewsBlaze.

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