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DDoS cyber attacks: 3 things cops should know

Many police agencies have been affected by DDoS attacks in recent years


While preventing or predicting a DDoS attack is difficult, it’s important to recognize the signs of an attack.

A massive DDoS cyber attack on Friday rendered major websites, including Twitter, Reddit, and Netflix, inaccessible in vast portions of the United States. Here’s what a DDoS attack is, why police officers should care, and a brief history of the use of this type of attack against police agencies.

1. What is a DDoS attack?
One of the most popular methods of cyber warfare, a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack sends numerous junk requests to a network, overwhelming the network to the point of a slow crawl or a complete standstill, according to the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT). As a result, legitimate users cannot access a website or websites.

Friday’s attack targeted a major domain name system (DNS) host. A DNS is the part of the web infrastructure that directs users from a web address (such as to the company’s online servers and enables access to the site.

These attacks have targeted a wide range of victims in the past, from banks to entertainment services to social media. Some notable recent attacks include the disruption of Sony’s Playstation network and major credit card companies like MasterCard and Visa.

2. Why should police officers care about this cyber attack?
Police agencies have been affected by DDoS attacks in the past, most commonly carried out by the hacktivist collective Anonymous, which has a long history of targeting police officers and agencies in the wake of high-profile officer-involved shootings. St. Louis County Police were a victim of such an attack in 2014 after events in Ferguson, resulting in their website and email going offline. The Albuquerque (N.M.), Denver (Colo.), and San Jose (Calif.) police departments are just a few examples of other agencies that have fallen victim to similar disruptions.

3. What can be done to protect your agency from this type of cyber attack?
While preventing or predicting a DDoS attack is difficult, it’s important to recognize the signs of an attack and reach out to your IT professionals as soon as possible. US-CERT has outlined the following as signs that you may be under attack:

• unusually slow network performance (opening files or accessing websites)
• unavailability of a particular website
• inability to access any website
• dramatic increase in the amount of spam you receive in your account

For more information about cyber security issues threatening law enforcement today, click here.

Cole Zercoe previously served as Senior Associate Editor of Lexipol’s and His award-winning features focus on the complexity of policing in the modern world.

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