WikiLeaks, Denial of Service Attacks, and Nanobot Clouds
December 9, 2010 1 Comment
The recent firestorm surrounding WikiLeaks reminds me of one of Neal Stephenson’s visions of the future, “Diamond Age,” written back in 1995. The web was only at its infancy, but Stephenson had already envisioned massive clouds of networked nanobots, some under control of the government, some under control of other entities. Such nanobot swarms, also known as Utility Fogs, could be made to do pretty much anything; form a sphere of protection, gather information, inspect people and report back to a central server, or be commanded to attack each other. One swarm under control of one organization may be at war with another swarm under the control of another organization. That is our future. Nanoterrorism.
A distributed denial of service attack (DDoS) is a network attack on a particular server or internet node. It is often carried out by having thousands of computers saturate the target machine with packet requests, making it impossible for the machine to respond to normal HTTP requests, effectively bringing it to its knees, inaccessible on the internet. The attacks are often coordinated by a central source who takes advantage of networks of already compromised computers (aka zombie computers, usually unknown to their owners) via malware inflections. On command, these botnets initiate their attack with clever techniques called Smurf attacks, Ping floods, SYN floods, and other scary sounding events. An entire underground industry has built up around botnets, some of which can number in the millions. Botnets can be leased by anyone who knows how to access them and has a few hundred dollars. As a result, an indignant group can launch an attack on, say, the WikiLeaks site. And, in response, a WikiLeak support group can launch a counter attack on its enemies, like MasterCard, Visa, and PayPal for their plans to terminate service for WikiLeaks. That is our present. Cyberterrorism.
Doesn’t it sound a lot like the nanoterrorism envisioned by Stephenson? Except it is still grounded in the hardware. As I see it, the equation of the future is:
Nanoterrorism = Cyberterrorism + Microrobotics + Moore’s Law + 20 years.