On the 4th of July an organized series of Denial of Service (DOS) attacks were launched against a number of U.S. government websites (including the White House, Treasury Department and the Federal Trade Commission websites), as well as several websites associated with the South Korean government and a handful of corporate targets (the Washington Post and Nasdaq stock exchange). [If you are wondering what a DOS/DDOS attack is, brief explanations are available from U.S. Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) and CNET.]

The U.S. government routinely faces threats like these (note coverage of prior events in 2001 and 2000), but the recent attacks have been especially long lasting, apparently very well coordinated and sophisticated, and “remarkably successful”. In fact, a number of government websites were brought down over the weekend and some are still experiencing service problems as a result of this attack. [As of this posting, the FTC website is still showing signs of overload.] Of particular note is that the website of at least one agency charged with investigating cybercrime violations in the United States, the Secret Service website, was successfully brought down by this attack.

At the moment, the source of the attack is unknown, but some are reporting that North Korea is behind the attack. In particular, there is some suggestion that North Korea may be running a “cyber warfare unit” which is tasked with hacking into military websites and disrupting traffic to those sites. If such reports are accurate, then we have seen a demonstration that a hostile government has the capability to disrupt traffic to government websites, even the websites of government agencies involved in cyber security. Of course, the apparent impact of these attacks has been minimal, they have effectively disrupted the use of public websites, but there appears to be little lasting impact.

U.S. officials have not issued any public comment on the attacks.