Hackers attempt to shut down Poplar Bluff's municipal Internet provider

Sunday, November 21, 2010

POPLAR BLUFF, Mo -- The Poplar Bluff Police Department has contacted federal authorities regarding an investigation into an apparent cyber-attack on Municipal Utilities -- an effort apparently aimed at disrupting or shutting down its Internet service.

"Cyber warfare, cyber-attacks and other computer crime seems to be a thing of television and movies, but the Poplar Bluff Police Department has been looking into just such a matter brought to their attention by the Poplar Bluff Municipal Utilities ISP (Internet service provider)," explained Detective Greg Brainard with the SEMO Cyber Crimes Task Force, headquartered at the police department.

According to a report filed with the police department, Brainard said, system administrators at Municipal Utilities noticed a significant increase in "malicious attempts" to disrupt the utility's computer system, which administers Internet service.

Brainard said the system administrator reported there being about 500 malicious attempts each week until the middle of July, but, "on a specific date, that number jumped to around 45,000 per week and has stayed at that level since.

"The attacks appear to be timed, coordinated attempts to disrupt the service."

Brainard said there was not a steady stream of attempts, but "huge spikes at certain times."

"Someone, somewhere is trying to bombard the system with enough contacts to shut the system down (by) overloading the processing system" and hoping one attempt gets through, explained Brainard.

At this time, Brainard said, Municipal Utilities personnel report nothing has been successful in breaching the security systems, and they are upgrading the capability of the equipment currently in place.

These attacks, referred to as "DDoS" attacks (distributed denial of service attacks) are common across the Internet, attacking e-commerce and commercial sites at the rate of hundreds per day, Brainard said.

"DDoS also attempt to shut down computers from private network Internet service providers, such as Municipal Utilities, and even to the federal government's computer system," Brainard said.

An attack earlier this month, he said, shut down the entire computer infrastructure network of Myanmar, a small Asian country.

Police Chief Danny Whiteley said he and general manager Bill Bach discussed the local attacks a couple of months ago, but decided to hold off doing anything to see if they were random or a coordinated effort.

With no decline "since we initially started looking at it, we believed it to be a concentrated threat by someone," Whiteley said.

Brainard and detective Scott Phelps with the Cyber Crimes Task Force are coordinating the investigation, said Whiteley, who contacted the FBI.

Whiteley said the FBI also works with the Department of Homeland Security in cases such as these.

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