Cyber Warfare or Hacktivism? DDoS Attacks Can Be Used Either Way

DDoS attacks have become more sophisticated and commonplace and are increasingly making headlines. The Finnish Ministry of Defence website suffered a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack on Tuesday, March 22. There is some speculation that the attack may have been an act of political “hacktivism” because the Finnish attack occurred just before a meeting between the Finnish and Russian presidents in Moscow. A few days earlier, DDoS attacks were launched against Swedish government websites and major media outlets, purportedly in response to “propaganda” that portrayed Russia in a negative light, according to this International Business Times article.

Meanwhile, according to TechWeekEurope, last week a “gray” hat hacking group known as NSHC (which claims to launch attacks to expose security weaknesses, not for malicious purposes) attacked several Swiss organizations, including political parties, the national railway operator and online retail businesses. It may be a situational coincidence, yet those three incidents reinforce a point that we continue to see validated on a regular basis; any Internet-facing service is a potential target for attackers. This seems especially true for high-profile websites, which can be hacked just for the sake of bringing more attention to an issue.

Hacktivism or Cyber Warfare?

Are DDoS attacks considered Hacktivism or Cyber Warfare? When launched by non-state actors, cyber attacks are are more often considered a form of political hacktivism; but when performed by government agents they are known as cyber warfare. Obviously, DDoS attacks are detrimental either way; they can cripple Internet applications or websites, and can be used as a tool in cyber warfare. In times of war it can be hard to distinguish between rogue actors and nation-state warriors; this is even more true when it comes to war waged in a digital landscape. And when it comes to DDoS attacks, corporations and governments have reason for concern, because it doesn’t take a lot of coding or money to launch a DDoS attack—the capability is incredibly cheap to buy and the attacks are easy to launch.

How to Deal With DDoS Attacks

Internet media outlets, corporations, government agencies and the like cannot wait until an attack happens before taking steps for protection; as the saying goes, that would be like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. Real-time, in-line DDoS mitigation must be the first line of defense when dealing with these types of cyber threats.