Anonymous downs Home Office site for second time

The Anonymous hacking group brought down the Home Office website in a second wave of successful OpTrialatHome attacks over the weekend, but failed to ground the GCHQ site
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

Anonymous has brought down the Home Office website for the second time, even though the department had prior warning of the hacking collective's campaign of weekend attacks.

Anonymous logo

Hackers connected to Anonymous brought down the Home Office website for the second time in a matter of days. Image credit: Anonymous

A flood of traffic sent to Homeoffice.gov.uk led to intermittent outages on Saturday, but did not compromise internal systems, the government department said on Monday.

"The site was temporarily unavailable," a Home Office spokeswoman told ZDNet UK. "The site was targeted by a distributed denial-of-service attack, and was flooded by the volume of traffic."

Last weekend, the Anonymous group launched its Operation Trial at Home (OpTrialatHome) campaign to protest the extradition treaty the UK has with the US. NASA hacker Gary McKinnon, TVShack website operator Stephen O'Dwyer and Christopher Tappin have been affected by the treaty, which critics see as unbalanced.

Those attacks took down the websites run by the prime minister's office and the Ministry of Justice, as well as the Home Office. Anonymous activists were successful for a second time in a matter of days because they varied their attack, the Home Office said in a statement on Monday.

"DDoS attacks are a difficult problem to tackle," the government department said. "The threat environment is changing constantly, with hacktivists using different tools and techniques to frustrate existing defences."

One of the hacktivists behind the UK Anonymous 2012 Twitter feed declined to tell ZDNet UK which attack tools the group had used at the weekend.

GCHQ repels attack

However, GCHQ managed to fend off an attempt to knock the intelligence agency's website offline as part of the most recent Operation Trial at Home push.

"Anonymous failed to bring down the GCHQ website over the weekend," a GCHQ spokesman told ZDNet UK on Monday. "We have reasonable and proportionate information assurance measures in place to protect the site."

The intelligence agency declined to describe how it headed off the Anonymous attack. It did note that the website under attack was not part of its core activity of intercepting communications.

"The GCHQ website is our public face and is not business critical," its spokesman said. "It has no impact on our operational capability."

A live audio recording of the Anonymous attack on GCHQ made by Sky News suggests the hacktivists believe the agency fought off the DDoS by distributing its website across a number of servers.

"We don't know how many servers this [website] has been distributed across," a hacker identified as 'Winston Smith' said on the recording. "I pressed half a gigabyte [of data] onto this."

The government's computer security response team (GovCert UK) has sent out advice about protecting sites against the Anonymous campaign.

"All government departments have been issued with an advisory note through GovCert UK which reiterates guidance on appropriate defensive measures against DDoS attacks and the response procedures," the Home Office said. "This complements the ongoing and routine support that CESG (the Information Assurance Arm of GCHQ) provides to government departments on how to protect against, detect and mitigate various types of cyberattack."

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