SAN FRANCISCO (AFP) — Georgian government websites have been under intense cyber attack on top of the Russian military strikes launched against the country late last week, a US Internet firm said Tuesday.
Tulip Systems Inc said they took over hosting of the websites for Georgia's presidency and a major television network on Saturday, a day after Russian forces poured into Georgia in response to Tbilisi's attacks on a Moscow-backed rebel province.
Tulip executive Tom Burling said the distributed-denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks began in the weeks running up to the outbreak of the Russia-Georgia conflict and continued Tuesday after the Kremlin announced it had ceased hostilities in the former Soviet state.
"They have been attacking Georgia from a cyber standpoint since July," Burling told AFP. "They are still doing it now."
"Our poor technician here has gotten three hours sleep in the past four days," he said.
Burling suggested that Russia was behind the attacks, which are similar to a cyber offensive waged against Estonia last year that coincided with a diplomatic spat between the Baltic state and Moscow.
DDoS attacks consist of overloading websites with so many online requests that systems crash.
Burling said Georgian government websites were being slammed with hundreds of millions of simultaneous requests for documents when Tulip gave them refuge, Burling said.
"The cyber attack was taking down every Georgian government website," he said.
On Tuesday, the Georgian sites hosted on Tulip were still reportedly getting hit with 68,000 requests at a time.
Russia has denied involvement in cyber assaults on Georgia and experts say it is difficult to determine exactly who is behind such attacks.
"The Georgian government's websites have obviously been under attack," said Gadi Evron, an Israeli computer security specialist that investigated the cyber assault on Estonia.
"It is simply too early and we lack enough information to reach any conclusion as to the motive and identity of the attackers," he said.
Evron said that such cyber warfare has become commonplace in the past decade.
"These types of attack are only natural and happen immediately following any conflict or political tension," Evron told AFP in an email.
DDoS attacks are simple, economical and hard to trace.
The assaults are typically done by using networks of computers that have been turned into "zombies" or "bots" with malicious software planted by hackers without the owners of machines being aware.
"Botnets" can grow to thousands or millions of machines and be commanded to simultaneously make requests at targeted websites.
Andre DiMino, director of Shadowserver, a nonprofit Internet security watchdog with team members around the world, warned against jumping to the conclusion that Russia's government is the culprit in the Georgia cyber attacks.
"This actually looks more like grass roots hacktivist types -- people that jumped on the bandwagon," DiMino said, using Internet jargon referring to political activists that resort to online evil-doing.
Tulip's Burling said the trend of such cyber maliciousness was a cause for concern.
"It's like the Olympics. We are supposed to be above politics in the Internet community."
Georgian forces attacked the Moscow-backed rebel province of South Ossetia to regain control of the region which broke away from Tbilisi in the early 1990s.
Russian troops and tanks poured into Georgia on Friday after the Georgian offensive.
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