On Monday 7 February the world’s biggest web site, Yahoo, was closed
down in the US for several hours, resulting in major on-line chaos.
The reason for this was because the company’s main computer network,
based in California, had been bombarded by millions of spurious requests
for information, which clogged up the system and prevented serious users
from accessing the site. It was the equivalent of a telephone hotline
receiving a constant stream of bogus calls.
At the peak of the ’denial of service’ attack the site was receiving up
to a gigabyte of data every second from the perpetrators - more than
most e-commerce sites get in a year.
It took Yahoo nearly three hours to remedy the problem - a significant
period of downtime for a service which normally delivers up to 465
million web pages a day.
Yahoo was forced to implement software filters to block the fake
requests for information and redirected its services to computers at
Other dot.com companies were also targeted by the hackers in the wake of
their Yahoo ’success’. Buy.com, eBay, E*Trade, and Amazon all went down
within days of Yahoo. CNN’s live newswire was in the process of
reporting on this rising phenomenon when it, too, fell victim to an
As yet only companies based in the US have been targeted however,
bearing in mind the global nature of the web, the implications for
e-business are enormous, as the incidents represent the most serious
breach of security in the internet’s history.
Although no clear motives have been identified, the hackers have proved
that nobody is safe. The on-line world has been forced into recognising
that if an internet titan such as Yahoo can be held to ransom, then
anyone is vulnerable. One result is that consumer confidence in the
burgeoning sector may be seriously undermined, with users feeling less
comfortable about disclosing personal details and credit card numbers
on-line. Share prices of internet firms took a dive after the attacks
while shares of internet security companies ISS, Axent and Sonic Wall
There is varying speculation about who carried out the attacks. Some
sources believe it involved a number of cyber-terrorists orchestrating
an attack from a multitude of locations, while others think it could be
the efforts of an individual.
Yahoo’s response to the issue was prompt. The day after they were
stormed the company announced that it was meeting with the FBI to
discuss tracking down the hackers. It also published news and analysis
pieces on the site - including the US government’s plans to convene a
meeting to respond to the phenomenon.