Last month, attackers took down the PlayStation Network for several days, embarrassing Sony and leaving tons and tons of gamers unable to feed their Destiny addictions for almost a week. This is all thanks to what's called a Distributed Denial of Service attack, where a person or a group of people send an inflated amount of traffic to a network in hopes of overloading and crippling the servers.
DDoS attacks are easy to pull off and extremely difficult to stop, which is why it's kinda nice to see the White House coming out with an Official Stance against them. In fact, President Obama just released a statement saying he's working on legislation to expand federal authority when it comes to fighting this sort of malicious internet behaviour.
Check out the press release (emphasis mine):
Modernizing Law Enforcement Authorities to Combat Cyber Crime: Law enforcement must have appropriate tools to investigate, disrupt and prosecute cyber crime. The Administration's proposal contains provisions that would allow for the prosecution of the sale of botnets, would criminalise the overseas sale of stolen U.S. financial information like credit card and bank account numbers, would expand federal law enforcement authority to deter the sale of spyware used to stalk or commit ID theft, and would give courts the authority to shut down botnets engaged in distributed denial of service attacks and other criminal activity.
It also reaffirms important components of 2011 proposals to update the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organisations Act (RICO), a key piece of law used to prosecute organised crime, so that it applies to cybercrimes, clarifies the penalties for computer crimes, and makes sure these penalties are in line with other similar non-cyber crimes. Finally, the proposal modernizes the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act by ensuring that insignificant conduct does not fall within the scope of the statute, while making clear that it can be used to prosecute insiders who abuse their ability to access information to use it for their own purposes.
The feds going after botnets — groups of computers that can work together to perform an activity, like flooding a target with artificial or inflated traffic — would certainly make it tougher for people to get their hands on the tools needed to execute DDoS attacks. This seems like an excruciatingly difficult battle to fight, but it sure is worth fighting.
The Entertainment Software Association — the lobbying group for video game companies — sent out a statement expressing support for this new initiative, attributed to president Michael Gallagher:
Cyber attacks threaten our country's security and prosperity. We commend President Obama's leadership in providing law enforcement the tools necessary to detect and prosecute organised digital crime. Consumers need to be protected from illegal, malicious botnets and denial-of-service attacks. They deserve to enjoy an innovative and dynamic Internet free of this criminal activity. The Entertainment Software Association will work with the White House and Congressional leaders to fine tune these proposals and help enhance penalties for those who inflict consumer damage on a mass scale.
Will any of this actually lead to legislation? No idea. But in the wake of a very frustrating Christmas Day for gamers worldwide, it's comforting to know that the government is at least talking about this stuff.