DDoS attack leaves Dutch websites offline for hours

A number of Dutch government websites went dark yesterday after an online assault.

People in the Netherlands with government-related business to take care of would probably agree that yesterday was not the best of days to do it. In what initially appeared to be a simple glitch, all Dutch government websites went down on Tuesday morning, only coming back up more than twelve hours later.

Initially, it was thought that the cross-site outage was related to problems with the fibre broadband network, since, as well as the government websites, several other big Dutch sites went down - and they were all hosted by the same company, Prolocation.

However, when asked yesterday, the company was unable to confirm the existence of any networking hardware issues. At 10pm CET on Tuesday, the websites were accessible again, however, no official statement was released about the cause.

This morning, the Dutch Ministry of General Affairs issued a brief statement saying: "The disruption of Rijksoverheid.nl and many other government websites was caused by a DDoS attack. The disruption started at 10am and lasted until late in the evening. The Public and Communications Service, part of the Ministry of General Affairs, will, in collaboration with Centric / Prolocation and the National Cyber Security Center (NCSC), investigate the attack."

Second time in two weeks

The websites' outage is significant, marking the second time in less than two weeks that key public infrastructure went down because of an attack.

On January 29, the Dutch national broadcaster NOS' channels went dark after a man with a gun made his way into the station, threatening to detonate several explosive devices placed at different locations in the Netherlands if he wasn't given 10 minutes of airtime.

The police were able to apprehend the man within minutes. However, during that time, the Dutch national broadcasting channels went offline. Dutch Minister of Security and Justice Ivo Opstelten has called for an investigation into what happened, as the Dutch national broadcaster's channels should serve as the go-to stations in times of crises and disasters and should never be allowed to go dark, whatever the circumstances.

Ironically, less than two weeks later, it was his government's own websites that went down. On Twitter, Dutch minister Kees Verhoeven publicly wondered how Opstelten is planning to prevent similar downtime in the future, as "it is unacceptable for such a vital source of information to go down for such a period of time".

Verhoeven acknowledged that DDoS attacks can be difficult to prevent, but said that a back-up should be available in case of such an event.

Read more from the Netherlands

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