Blocking DDoS Archive

  • A denial of service attack, which involves overwhelming computer systems with information in a bid to take them down, successfully interrupted electrical systems in Los Angeles County and Salt Lake County in March, according to the Department of Energy.
  • The incident was a rare example of as against an energy utility, particularly in a high population area.
  • Denial of service attacks are relatively rudimentary, and unlikely to be the work of a nation-state, one expert told CNBC.

Electrical grid operations in two huge U.S. population areas — Los Angeles County in California, and Salt Lake County in Utah — were interrupted by a distributed-denial-of-service attack in March, according to the Department of Energy’s Electric Emergency and Disturbance Report for March.

The attack did not disrupt electrical delivery or cause any outages, the Department of Energy confirmed, but caused “interruptions” in “electrical system operations.” In this case, “operations” does not refer to electrical delivery to consumers, but could cover any computer systems used within the utilities, including those that run office functions or operational software.

Although the attack did not interrupt service, denial-of-service attacks are easily preventable, and most large organizations no longer consider them major threats. The fact that it succeeded calls into question whether the utilities are prepared for a far more sophisticated attack, as the U.S. government has warned about.

DDoS attacks used to be common, but are easily prevented

A Department of Energy official told CNBC, “DOE received a report about a denial-of-service condition that occurred at an electric utility on March 5, 2019, related to a known vulnerability that required a previously published software update to mitigate. The incident did not impact generation, the reliability of the grid or cause any customer outages.”

The incident, which happened between 9:12 a.m. and 6:57 p.m., also interrupted electrical system operations in Kern County, California, and Converse County, Wyoming.

Distributed denial of service, or DDoS, involves delivering a heavy stream of information and internet traffic, usually with the help of a network of hacked computers, to overwhelm the systems of a target.

DDoS attacks are one of the simplest forms of cyberattack to execute. They used to be very common, but there are common practices in place to prevent them, and most large organizations have practically eliminated them as threats. The fact that such an easily preventable attack succeeded against a system serving such a large electrical distribution area is cause for concern, especially because energy is one of the U.S. government’s most important “critical infrastructure” sectors, making these utilities subject to the strongest protections.

The DOE has not released any information on the origins of the attack. Several countries, including Russia, Iran and China, have been cited by U.S. government authorities as sponsoring attacks against the U.S. electric grid, often with the goal of infiltrating the network or gathering intelligence.

But a DDoS is a relatively unsophisticated type of attack, meant to take down a computer network quickly. That means the culprit could be almost anybody, from a single individual to a larger group.

“DDoS is the low-hanging fruit in the hacker world. It’s very loud and it’s easy to detect quickly. The ones that are operating at the nation-state level don’t need to use DDoS,” said Chris Grove, director of industrial cybersecurity at Indegy, a utility and industrial systems cybersecurity company. “If this was a nation-state attack, they wouldn’t pull off a DDoS attack to take it down, they’d probably do a better job.”

This is the first reported cyberdisruption by the Department of Energy in 2019.

Last year, the DOE reported four reported cyber-events. One of them, like the March 5 incident, caused interruptions of electrical system operations in Michigan’s Midland and Genesee counties. The other three were reported as “could potentially impact electric power system adequacy or reliability.”


2018 was a big year for cyber-attacks, with movie studios, universities, and governments all being subjects to disruptions of varying sizes. Marriot hotels experienced a breech of 500 million records, exposing the travel and hospitality industries as new targets for cybercrime; the hotel guests’ information was stolen in a data breech that was detected on September 10th, 2018 though it could have started as far back as 2014. British Airways was another victim, or their customers to be more precise, when personal information from 380,000 users was stolen, alongside credit card information. It’s not just data breeches that caused troubles, cybercriminals took what they could get with many aiming for pure disruption without explicit financial benefit.

With this in mind Sungard took a closer look at the rate of airline outages in the US, uncovering shocking numbers in the process. The data looked back to 2007 to track the rate of outages across the US airline industry. The numbers started out low, with 2007 recording three outages, while 2008 and 2009 saw just one per year. Fast forward to 2011 and the number rose to five, peaking in 2015 with eleven outages overall. in 2016, nine outages were recorded; six in 2017; ten in 2018, and three so far in 2019. The trend is not linear but the presence of outages every year does confirm that airlines are the major new targets for cyber-attackers.

The most widely deployed attacks are of the DDoS style, which stands for Distributed Denial of Service. What happens during a DDoS attack is that hackers flood an organisation’s systems with so many communication requests that it overwhelms the servers, resulting in disruption of normal functions. Airlines are sensitive to these types of attacks since so many of their operations take place on line, making them vulnerable at many different points. Another possible reason is that airlines simply haven’t taken their cybersecurity as seriously as they should have from the start.

The problem is of course not isolated to the US, with attackers targeting international airlines too. When it happened to the Polish airline LOT, its chief executive Sebastian Mikosz said, “This is an industry problem on a much wider scale, and for sure we have to give it more attention.” Adding, “I expect it can happen to anyone anytime.”

Typically, the attacks don’t cause immediate danger to passengers as they don’t affect systems used by aircrafts while they’re in the air. Still, the disruptions are certainly annoying for all involved. They ground flights thanks to the knock-on effect of disruption and intricate flight schedules keeping all airports running. Some flights end up being rescheduled whilst others are altogether cancelled, causing issues for hundreds of passengers and costing airlines profits alongside reputation. While profits are recoverable, reputation is much harder to restore as passengers who experience disruption with a particular airline will view it as unreliable, choosing to avoid it for their next journey.

Airlines must wise up to the increased rates of attacks if profits and reputation are to remain intact. This can be done by targeting security, so that attackers aren’t able to cause disruptions in the first place, increasing resiliency, while also looking at recovery procedures to minimise downtime.

Travellers need to take extra precautions too. Travel insurance is a good bet when it comes to adding a layer of security to journey plans. Airlines that have undergone multiple mergers are more sensitive to cyberattacks due to merged patchwork of systems that are easier to exploit. Additionally, scheduling flights in the morning and choosing non-stop routes where possible, is safer, since afternoons and evenings see most of the server loads spike.


There is a direct correlation between cryptocurrency and DDoS attacks. As the price of cryptocurrency dropped in 2018, leading to decreased profits from cryptomining, hackers on the black market began to divert prime botnet resources to DDoS attack activities, which increased month by month.

correlation DDoS attacks cryptomining

DDoS attacks in 2018

In NSFOCUS’ 2018 DDoS Attack Landscape report, NSFOCUS analyzed the threat landscape after a landmark year of technological growth related to cloud computing, big data, artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), and Industry 4.0.

Key findings include:

  • Attackers were more inclined to launch DDoS attacks when the short-term benefits from cryptomining activities declined in 2018.
  • In 2018, DDoS attacks kept expanding in size as DDoS-as-a-Service experienced a fast growth.
  • Of all internet attack types, 25% of attackers were recidivists responsible for 40% of all attack events. The proportion of recidivists in DDoS attacks decreased in 2018, making up about 7% of DDoS attackers that launched 12% of attack events.
  • Cloud services/IDCs, gaming, and e-commerce were the top three industries targeted by attackers.
  • The total number of DDoS attacks in 2018 reached 148,000, down 28.4% from 2017, driven by effective protections against reflection attacks, which decreased considerably.
  • In 2018, the most frequently seen attacks were SYN flood, UDP flood, ACK flood, HTTP flood, and HTTPS flood attacks, which all together accounted for 96% of all DDoS attacks.
  • Of all DDoS attacks, 13% used a combination of multiple attack methods. The other 87% were single-vector attacks.

correlation DDoS attacks cryptomining

“The fluctuation of Bitcoin prices has a direct bearing on DDoS attack traffic,” said Richard Zhao, COO at NSFOCUS.

“This, along with other report findings, can help us better predict and prepare for DDoS attacks. Attackers are after profits and as we watch bitcoin fluctuate, we will continue to see this correlation pop up. DDoS attacks have never stopped since making their debut – analyzing trends in this report helps companies keep up with the fluid attack and threat landscape.”


“Altogether, since February 5, there have been 17 separate instances where the volume of inbound internet traffic has exceeded the carrying capacity of our [internet service provider] for 5 minutes or longer,” said Martin Manjak, UAlbany’s chief information security officer.

Information technology systems at University of Albany have been targeted with cyber-attacks. In the space of two weeks, UA systems experienced a total of 17 distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, with threats as recent as Feb. 19.

“Altogether, since February 5, there have been 17 separate instances where the volume of inbound internet traffic has exceeded the carrying capacity of our [internet service provider] for 5 minutes or longer,” said Martin Manjak, UAlbany’s chief information security officer.

DDoS attacks flood a network with malicious requests, disrupting the normal flow of data between servers and legitimate users attempting to connect.

These attacks have impacted the availability and functionality of several UA IT systems, particularly Blackboard. According to Manjak, neither the integrity nor confidentiality of university information has been compromised.

Manjak said he believes the attacks may be related. However, no one has claimed responsibility and no motivate has been identified.

“All we know is that the resource being targeted is Blackboard,” Manjak said.

Computers on UA’s network, like those in the library, were not affected by the DDoS attack. However, students and faculty using their own devices were unable to access Blackboard.

“We’re able to maintain access to electronic resources from on-campus through a combination of firewall and filtering rules,” Manjak said, “but access from off-campus was affected because the attacker(s) filled our internet pipe.”

Members of the UA community received two information security alert emails from Manjak about the attacks, one on Feb. 5 and the other on Feb. 18.

“Communication is sent to the University community when we identify an active threat that has the potential to impact the entire campus,” Manjak said.


Hackers are targeting airlines as never before, and this could affect your next flight. That’s the conclusion of a troubling new study of airline IT outages by Netscout, a provider of application and network performance management products.

Attacks against passenger air travel increased by more than 15,000% between 2017 and 2018, according to Netscout’s research.

That’s no decimal point error. 15,000%.

Why? Airlines are easier targets.

“Cybercriminals have traditionally concentrated attacks on internet service providers, telecoms, and cable operators,” says Hardik Modi, Netscout’s senior director for threat intelligence. “While those categories still represent prime targets, they are now relatively well protected”. Subsequently, cybercriminals are now targeting the enterprise market, including passenger air travel, with real venom.

Sungard Availability Services, a provider of IT production and recovery services, tracks the major airline IT outage incidents. It shows that their numbers steadily increasing.

Last year, the domestic airline industry had 10 major outages, the most since 2015, according to Sungard. It’s unknown what role, if any, cyberattacks played in these outages.

The trend appears to be accelerating in 2019. Southwest Airlines suffered a computer outage on Friday that temporarily grounded flights across the country. The airline said it suspended operations for about 50 minutes to ensure the performance of software systems that had been upgraded overnight. The airline also had a smaller outage in January that affected flights to and from Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

In January, 27 Alaska Airlines flights were delayed after the airline suffered a power outage in Seattle.

The incidents trigger an avalanche of consumer complaints to my nonprofit advocacy organization.

airline it outages

What’s going on with airline IT outages?

What’s happening? Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks are to blame for some of the outages, according to Netscout. DDoS attacks disrupt services of a host connected to the Internet. You can see some of these attacks in real time on a service like (here’s Southwest Airlines and here’s Alaska Airlines.)

“Disruptions to air travel are felt immediately,” explains Modi. “We’re all used to seeing images of grounded flights on the evening news, while delayed passengers make their frustrations known over social media channels.”

airline it outages

But not all of the attacks directly affect passengers. Netscout’s analysis also reveals a spike in attacks which passengers might not notice, with volumes reaching levels not seen since 2016.

“Our analysis also indicated that the size of attacks grew at an alarming rate during 2018,” Modi adds. “The maximum attack size recorded last year reached a staggering 245 Gbps (billions of bits per second, a measure of internet bandwidth). When comparing this to the maximum attack sizes recorded in 2016, which reached 124 Gbps, you begin to understand the increasing severity of these attacks.”

In other words, the flight disruptions you’re feeling are only a small part of a much bigger problem that are keeping airline IT workers busy this year. Data trends point to even more outages in the coming weeks, which also happen to be among the busiest for air travel.

airline it outages

How to prevent hackers from ruining your next flight

Airline IT outages can affect your next flight, as I pointed out in my Washington Post column last year.

No one knows when the next IT outage will happen, but there are steps you can take to protect yourself from the worst effects.

Consider travel insurance. The major carriers offer coverage for flight disruptions, which include any information-systems problems that cause delays or force an airline to cancel flights. Cast a broad net when you’re researching coverage. A company like Etherisc allows you buy insurance up to 24 hours before your flight, track it in real time and receive an instant payout if your flight is delayed or canceled. There’s no formal claims process. I have an annual travel insurance policy through Allianz Travel Insurance that covers flight disruption.

Choose your airline carefully. Carriers that have been through multiple mergers are most likely to suffer an IT outage, due to the merged patchwork of systems, components and staffing. All of the major legacy airlines, plus Southwest Airlines, have recently completed mergers. Some are aggressively upgrading their aging IT equipment, which has led to a few hiccups.

Schedule your flight early and book it as a nonstop. Many IT outages happen in the afternoon or evening, as server loads spike. Passengers on early-morning flights aren’t affected. And flying nonstop lessens the chance that you’ll be stuck somewhere on a connection.

Know your rights. If you’re flying in the United States, your rights are outlined in the contract of carriage, the legal agreement between you and the airline. It’s a dense and often difficult-to-understand contract, but it contains several provisions that promise an airline will offer meal vouchers, phone cards and overnight hotel accommodations during a service disruption. While there’s no requirement that an airline must rebook you on a different carrier (known as endorsing the ticket), airlines are known to consider doing that on a case-by-case basis.

Could this be the year of the airline IT outage? Perhaps. Even if the first two months of the year are a fluke, you need to know the extent of the problem — and the fixes.