The FBI was treating efforts by "Anonymous" and "4chan" as an "unauthorized and knowing transmission of code or commands resulting in intentional damage to a protected computer system," according to a search warrant affidavit published online Thursday.
Not all distributed denial of service (DDoS) efforts are a crime. This is especially true when systems within the networks staging the attack are placed there voluntarily by their users, with thousands of willing individuals simply flooding a server by asking it to do what it's designed for: loading pages.
Botnets of this nature have been compared to cyber "sit-ins": a computer-age echo of civil rights-era protests.
However, a newly discovered software exploit in peer-to-peer file sharing networks could allow a single individual, instead of many, the ability to bring down massive Internet operations by marshaling hundreds of thousands of other systems through "BitTorrent" trickery.
On "BitTorrent" networks, swarms of users all share portions of a single file, trading tiny pieces between their computers until each individual client has the complete download.
Millions of people engage in these networks every day, sharing everything from the perfectly legal to the legally ambiguous. Massive quantities of copyrighted material trade hands between users of "BitTorrent" networks regularly, but not much can be done to shut them down since many torrent files do not require a centralized tracker or host.
It is within these tracker-less torrent files that a major attack can be staged, according to a recent chat held by the Chaos Communications Congress, an annual conference of hackers now in its 27th year.
With a tracker-less torrent and a single "malicious node," "anyone with a moderate bandwidth connection can induce DDoS attacks with the BitTorrent cloud," the lecture page summarized.
A Chaos Congress presenter under the name "Astro" demonstrated how that entire network's bandwidth can quickly become marshaled to attack a single domain.
"For example, one could tell tens of thousands of users that an HD version of Inception is available at an address that really is the web server of a corporation," technology publication Gigaom noted. "All of these users would immediately try to download the file under that address, bombarding the server with requests and possibly taking it down in the process."
And it's not just a single deceptive torrent file that can lead such an attack: according to TorrentFreak, this new method can utilize existing torrents already sharing information by hundreds of thousands of people.