People have become so dependent on the internet that there's always an uproar when some of our favorite sites experience downtime. Back in 2010, for example, Facebook was offline for around two and a half hours and people went crazy without it.
But what if the entire web was shut down all at once? We're talking more than just your social media accounts and streaming sites such as Hulu and Netflix. News channels. Online banking. Government sites. The works.
This is what happened to as many as 900,000 people in Germany this past Sunday. A massive web outage occurred and wasn't resolved until Monday.
What caused the outage that left close to a million people without access to the internet? The answer may surprise you.
The outage was the result of another DDoS attack, according to officials. We've seen a similar attack like this before. One as recent as this past October, which shut down access along the East Coast of the U.S. for sites such as Amazon, Netflix and Twitter.
A DDoS attack - or Distributed Denial of Service attack - is when servers become overwhelmed with more traffic than they can handle. These types of attacks are executed with something called a botnet, and hackers are using one particular vulnerability, which is found in millions of homes across the world, to orchestrate them.
Routers. Think of them as the Achilles heel in your personal Wi-Fi network (at least if you haven't done anything to secure them.)
What's most troubling about what happened in Germany is that experts believe this was a "botched" attempt. As 900,000 people lost access to the internet, this was considered a misstep by the hackers.
That means things could have been much worse. According to the head of IT security at Duetsche Telekom (the company whose customers were targeted), the attack was also meant to impact the German government's network.
Once again, this attack also involved Mirai software, which is a form of malware that's designed to infect web-connected devices and turn them into a network of botnets that can be controlled remotely by the hackers. This network is then used to send false signals that overwhelm and shut down web servers.
In this case, Deutsche Telekom's IT security representatives have pinpointed routers as the culprit, stating: "In the framework of the attack, it was attempted to turn the routers into a part of a botnet."
What can you do to secure your network?
One thing to understand is that this threat stretches beyond just routers. Botnets can consist of a collection of smart appliances found in people's homes. But securing your network does begin with securing your router.
Here's a checklist of steps you need to take immediately:
- Check to see if your router is outdated or known to have security issues. (Click here to learn how.)
- Update your router's firmware. (Click here to learn how.)
- Change your router's password. (Click here to learn how.)
Beyond that, you need to be smart with your web-connected devices. The steps it takes to secure these devices vary from product to product, so it's a good idea to reach out to each of the manufacturers - but, here's a general place to get started.
The last thing - and we say this a lot, but that's because it's important - is to be careful of what you click on. Phishing emails are one of the top methods hackers use to infect devices with malware.