Cyber attack on WikiLeaks may not be state-sourced: experts

WikiLeaks was hit by a second cyber attack in a matter of days. Photo / Thinkstock
WikiLeaks was hit by a second cyber attack in a matter of days. Photo / Thinkstock

LONDON - The second reported cyber attack on the WikiLeaks website this week may not be the work of a state, experts said, while it is usually impossible to tell who is behind such an assault.

The whistle-blowing website said on its Twitter feed that it was undergoing a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, whereby multiple systems flood the target's bandwidth.

"DDoS attack now exceeding 10 gigabits a second," the whistle-blowing website said.

Dave Clemente, a cyber security analyst from Britain's Chatham House think-tank, told AFP that a 10-gigabit DDoS attack was "relatively modest" and "could be done with probably a handful of relatively powerful computers".

He said it was "almost impossible" to work out who has launched a DDoS attack.

"The list of possible suspects runs from a lone hacker all the way up to a nation state. There are many groups which would have an interest in targeting WikiLeaks - the list is incredibly long," Clemente said.

"It's really more of a jab in the eye than a serious challenge. This kind of attack is not going to bring down WikiLeaks."

Tony Dyhouse, cyber security director of the British-based Digital Systems Knowledge Transfer Network, said the DDoS attacks were launched "effectively as a revenge or blackmail tactic, almost always one of the two.

"Attack and then make some form of demand, or attempt to put them out of business," he told AFP.

Such attacks use a botnet - a network computers that have been hijacked and can be controlled from a central point - which can range in size from dozens to millions.

They are run by organised crime gangs, primarily for fraud purposes.

"That's not to say nation states don't have them," Dyhouse said.

"They are launched by disgruntled people. We have to ask who is disgruntled at the moment.

"WikiLeaks has upset the US government, but it is very unlikely that the US government has launched a DDoS attack on WikiLeaks.

He said it was "very difficult" to attribute the attack to any one source. "Several times people jump to conclusions and accuse nation states. That's not to say that in some way they don't enable that action," he said.

"I certainly would not jump to the conclusion that this is the act of a state. It could indeed be a disaffected group within a country."

He said the flow of traffic could not be stopped easily.

"You have to go back upstream to try and prevent the traffic from reaching you. If it is a very poorly-crafted DDoS attack there is a way that your internet service provider will assist.

"You are looking for a common denominator that can distinguish the bad traffic from the good and then drop it - but the chances of doing that in a well-crafted attack is low."

WikiLeaks has this week begun releasing thousands of cables detailing accounts written by US diplomats. The release has infuriated Washington, which accuses the website or endangering lives.

- AFP


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