Official statements from the BBC today blamed a more than three-hour outage of the news services' many Web sites on a "technical issue." However, sources within the BBC attributed the problem to a large distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack.
The issue was first identified today around 2 a.m. EST (Eastern Standard Time) and had been resolved by 5:30 a.m. EST. The attack not only knocked the main BBC news Web site offline, but also the BBC's iPlayer streaming video catch-up service and iPlayer Radio app.
"The BBC Web site is now back up and operating normally. We apologise for any inconvenience you may have experienced," a BBC spokesperson told us, adding that the BBC is not releasing any further details about the causes of the "technical issue." According to reports, however, BBC correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones tweeted, "Sources - BBC suffered a DdOS - a distributed denial of service attack. But services are now being restored."
DDoS Attacks Increasing in Size
Digital Attack Map, a collaboration between Google Ideas and Arbor Networks that tracks DDoS incidents, describes such an attack as "an attempt to make an online service unavailable by overwhelming it with traffic from multiple sources." Targets for DDoS attacks often include critical sites for banking and news services, it added.
Great Britain saw unusually large DDoS-related botnet activity over the past 24 hours, with more than 3,000 machines launching attacks, according to Arbor Networks' ATLAS threat monitoring system. In the first quarter of 2015, Arbor Networks reported 25 attacks worldwide larger than 100 Gbps, including the largest observed to date: a 334 Gbps attack on a network operator in Asia.
The average size of a DDoS attack is increasing globally, Arbor Networks reported. Such attacks can cause considerable damage even though they are generally short-lived, with 90 percent lasting less than one hour.
Today's attack on the BBC's sites was not the first time the British news service had been knocked offline. In July 2014, a problem with an iPlayer database put that service and related services out of commission for nearly an entire weekend.
Snide Tweets and Creepy Clowns
In the absence of access to BBC Web sites early today, users took to Twitter to share theories and memes about the possible cause of the problem. Typical comments included tongue-in-cheek remarks about the U.K. government's cost-cutting measures and suggestions from "The IT Crowd" -- a British TV comedy about IT technicians -- offering, "Have you tried turning it off and on again?"
Many commenters also tweeted the image -- a sinister-looking clown doll in front of a blackboard and a raging fire -- that accompanied the BBC's 500 Internal Error page that appeared during the outage. Earlier this year, the British news organization the Mirror called that image "incredibly creepy."
While large DDoS attacks grab headlines whenever they occur, "it is the increasing size of the average DDoS attack that is causing headaches for enterprise[s] around the world," Arbor Networks chief security technologist Darren Anstee said earlier this year. "With average attacks capable of congesting the Internet connectivity of many businesses, it is essential that the risks and costs of an attack are understood, and appropriate plans, services and solutions put in place."
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