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Network Associates hit by DoS attack

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Antivirus software vendor Network Associates late Wednesday was hit by a denial-of-service attack, a company executive confirmed Thursday.

Access to the company's Web site was hampered for a 90-minute period, but the site never went fully offline, according to Jim Magdych, security research manager at the Computer Vulnerability Emergency Response Team (COVERT) at PGP Security, an NAI business.

Some users were unable to connect to the NAI Web site during the attack, while others could access the site but experienced slow responses to their queries, Magdych said. All NAI's sites worldwide were affected.

Denial-of-service attacks can disable a Web server or other type of computer by bombarding it with a high volume of fake requests for information, causing the target computer to crash or become so overwhelmed that it grinds to a halt. Just last week Microsoft was hit by two denial-of-service attacks, one of which disabled most of its popular Web destinations for several hours.

NAI's IT department is still trying to identify the source of the attack, Magdych said. He declined to comment on whether NAI would call in the FBI. Microsoft has already asked the FBI to investigate its denial-of-service attacks.

The denial-of-service attack was against NAI's Domain Name System (DNS) server, not its Web servers, Magdych said. However, the attack didn't "exploit the vulnerabilities" COVERT documented on Monday, he added. "It was a simple flooding attack."

COVERT on Monday warned of vulnerabilities in the software used in most DNS servers. At that time, Magdych said that flaws in two widely used versions of BIND - Berkeley Internet Name Domain, distributed free by the Internet Software Consortium (ISC), could be exploited immediately by unscrupulous programmers.

If exploited, the vulnerabilities could enable hackers to shut down both ISPs and corporate Web servers as well as steal data. On Monday, COVERT and ISC posted patches for the vulnerability.

Given the publicity COVERT's announcement gained, Magdych said hackers' ire against NAI may be behind the denial-of-service attack. "It certainly could be a motivating factor," he said.

Simple flooding denial-of-service attacks are very hard to counter since all servers have physical limits of how much traffic they can handle, Magdych said. He added that NAI's IT department has already implemented the necessary means to try and minimize any future such attacks.

NAI's IT department noticed the denial-of-service attack immediately since it "proactively monitors anomalous traffic," Magdych said. Within 15 minutes of the attack beginning, the IT department had assembled a team to deal with the problem and was in contact with NAI's ISP.

The IDG News Service is a Network World affiliate.

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