Denial-of-service-attack victim speaks out

One victim breaks the silence and the stranglehold of extortionists.

The founder of an online payment system has spoken to silicon.com about his experience of being targeted by Russian gangsters who threatened to destroy his website and his business if he didn't pay them $10,000 to leave him alone.

To this day his website is under continual attack.

Asif Malik, founder of NoChex, said his first contact with these hackmailers was in August 2004 when he received an email saying his website would be taken down by a denial of service attack if the money wasn't paid into an account based in Latvia.

"We'd received loads of emails like this before and my initial reaction was just ignore it," Malik told silicon.com. "But an hour later the site went down. They'd attacked us with 155Mb of data."

Malik was in no doubt what this would mean for his business.

"If they did what they said they'd do, which was attack the site for 30 days continuously, then we would have been unable to process transactions and we would have lost all our merchants.

"We'd not be in business today," he added.

Such an attack, often generated by a network of compromised machines all directing traffic at a particular server or website, will overload and bring down a website.

Malik then contacted the Russian gangsters behind the extortion scam and asked for one day to get the money together. They agreed to the delay and stopped the attack.

However, during that time Malik contacted his ISP Pipex who were already threatening to "black hole" his website as the attack was impacting the whole Pipex network and asked them to implement a Cisco Guard solution which effectively rerouted all traffic and cleaned it of the malicious traffic being generated by the crippling denial of service.

"The next morning they were emailing asking 'where is our money?'. When they realised we weren't going to pay-up they launched another attack but this time it had no effect."

Predictably this did not go down well. Malik received a string of abusive and threatening emails.

And to this day the attacks continue - though they have little impact on the NoChex website.

"I think they are still looking for a new way in," said Malik. Though he now employs several penetration testing companies to continually check he's leaving no door open for the Russian extortionists to return.

Malik reported the attack to Scotland Yard but as yet has heard nothing of the ongoing investigation.

Many other victims of such attacks, most commonly targeted at businesses such as online casinos, bookmakers and payment services, whose businesses are very time sensitive, have also spoken out about their problems.

Speaking of his own experiences of the problem David Yu, COO of Betfair, last year told silicon.com such a discourse is important as openness and shared understanding will eventually defeat the problem.

Paul King, chief security architect at Cisco, told silicon.com: "Criminals aren't looking for a sophisticated challenge. They just want to make money. If somebody thinks they can bring your site down and can ask for money then you need protection."

According to John Whitty, CTO of Pipex, those committing denial of service attacks can now launch around 500Mb of data at a website at any one time. There are very few companies, if any, in the world whose website would withstand such a barrage undefended.

Silicon.com's Will Sturgeon reported from London.