US, South Korean government websites targeted in cyber attack

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A widespread cyber attack beginning in July 4 has knocked out several United States agencies’ websites, including those responsible for fighting cyber crime. Also reported was on the same day, several sites belonging to the South Korean government and other private sites were knocked offline from the same cyber attack.

Those agencies affected include the Treasury Department, the Federal Trade Commission, the Department of Transportation, the Pentagon and the Secret Service, according to officials inside and outside the government talking to the Associated Press. These attacks were timed around the Independence Day holiday.

Also reported by the Associated Press is that the cyber attacks were also designated to attack the website belonging to the White House, but it is said that the attack had “absolutely no affect on the White House’s day-to-day operations,” according to a spokesperson.

The attacks, however, were not set out to attack classified or sensitive materal, but instead to attack the public material that is up on their website – creating a nuisance to visitors.

At the time of writing, the websites in question are back online.

In South Korea, however, the cyber attacks affected the websites of the presidential Blue House, the Defence Ministry and the National Assembly; several banking websites and the top internet portal Naver. Investigations over there conducted by its National Intelligence Service have linked the attack to North Korea, or pro-Pyongyang forces living in South Korea, but experts have said that it is too early to pinpoint the location.

Cyber attacks on federal computers are common in the United States, ranging from being a nuisance to data breaches, with some being blamed on China, though no evidence supports this claim. Officials are also fearing that al-Qaida or other terrorist organisations could launch cyber attacks on the United States.

Attacks via the web are not that common, but are very damaging when we rely too much on the Internet to give us information. Estonia and Georgia are two countries that have experienced cyber warfare from hackers based in Russia, who are said to have links to the Russian Government (the Government denies this claim). However, the two are linked as the hackers were inspired by nationalistic pride by the Russians.

Cyber attacks are usually done by a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, which uses several computers – usually as part of a botnet – to locate a page that does not exist. While the server can handle these requests one at the time, multiple requests, however, will let the server shut down. These botnets are usually a network of computers infected with malware and trojans to take control of a computer remotely, and they usually sell the botnet at a heavy cost.

The BBC was known to have purchased and used a botnet for investigative purposes, but because the BBC is a state-funded broadcaster, it received a lot of criticism over it, despite being used for a investigation piece on their technology show, Click. After using the botnet, the BBC then plastered a message on all the affected computers detailing what they should do.