'Non-state actor' behind cyber attack against US: Clapper

James Clapper, US Director of National Intelligence, speaks at the Council of Foreign Relations, October 25, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by AFP)

US officials and security researchers say it appears that a “non-state actor” was behind a massive cyber attack last week that briefly made dozens of popular websites inaccessible to people across wide swaths of the country.

US National Intelligence Director James Clapper said Tuesday it doesn’t appear that national governments were behind Friday’s massive internet attack, which blocked access to websites including Twitter and Netflix.

Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City, Clapper said investigators were gathering a lot of data about the attack.

Earlier this month, Clapper and the Department of Homeland Security accused Russia of hacking the Democratic National Committee, in an effort to affect the presidential election.

Security researchers studying the attack are also beginning to exclude usual suspects, such as national governments and internet blackmailers. Evidence instead points to the “loosely knit social circle of kids and young adults” who tend to launch similar attacks, said Allison Nixon, a researcher at online-security firm Flashpoint.

“All the arrows point away from any sort of political motivation,” which hurts “the nation-state argument,” Nixon said. “Of course, you never know until someone’s got handcuffs on them.”

On Monday, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security said law-enforcement agencies were still working with the private sector to determine the source of Friday’s attacks.

Dyn, a US company that manages crucial parts of the internet’s infrastructure, said Friday it came under a massive cyber attack, making major websites inaccessible to millions of Americans.

Dyn, which acts as a switchboard for internet traffic, said it began experiencing a so-called distributed denial-of-service attack, or DDoS, just after 7 am.

The cyber attack appears to have relied on hundreds of thousands of internet-connected devices like home routers, cameras and baby monitors that have been infected, without their owners’ knowledge, Dyn said.

Hackers used software that allows them to command the internet-connected devices to flood a target with overwhelming traffic.

Experts say the convenience of being able to control home electronics via the web leaves them more vulnerable to malicious intruders. The hack has heightened long-standing fears among security experts that the rising number of interconnected home gadgets, appliances and even automobiles represent a cyber security nightmare.

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