'Cyberwar' Emerges Amid Russia-Georgia Conflict

'Cyberwar' Emerges Amid Russia-Georgia Conflict

FromPBS Online NewsHour - 08-13-08

Georgia's recent conflict with Russia over the fate of two separatist provinces brought with it a first in international cyber-warfare, as Georgia faced a slew of Internet attacks. An Internet security specialist offers insight.

JEFFREY BROWN: Along with tanks and bullets came so-called cyber-attacks that began several weeks back and appear to be continuing.

Georgian government Web sites -- including the president's office, the parliament, and the foreign ministry -- were defaced with anti-Georgian or pro-Russian images. And Georgia's Internet system was crippled, as hackers manipulated computers to flood government, news, and information Web sites in a way that renders them useless.

Jose Nazario was one of the first security experts to pick up signs of the cyber-trouble. He's a senior researcher for Arbor Networks, a private company that provides Internet security to businesses, governments, and other organizations.

Well, why don't we start with a definition? What do we mean by a cyber-attack?

JOSE NAZARIO, Arbor Networks: Cyber-attacks are generally directed online, using online resource, against online resource of an adversary. So in this case, it is computers which have been compromised and built into a botnet, a network of computers that are under the control of attackers...

JEFFREY BROWN: Explain what -- I'm sorry, explain what a botnet is? Because I've seen that word, and it's a key one. What is it? What does it mean?

JOSE NAZARIO: These are computers that have been infected with malicious software that then changes the control of the computer to an attacker in a remote location. They continually listen for commands from this attacker and act upon them, basically turning them into slaves or zombies at the attacker's command.

JEFFREY BROWN: So what more can you tell us about the specific targets in Georgia? And what kind of impact did it have?

JOSE NAZARIO: In mid-July, as there were some increased tensions between Russia and Georgia over these regions under dispute, we began seeing an attack commanded to a large botnet that was directed to flood the Georgian president's Web site with requests to load the page repeatedly as fast as possible.

This caused it to be inaccessible, based upon our own monitoring, for some time. And these attacks lasted for a couple of days. Now, this pre-dates the skirmishes that we're seeing now and have seen in the past week between Russian forces and Georgian forces.

Entire interview.