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Nude celebrity photos might not be to blame for New Zealand internet crash

The company involved now suspects a cyber attack may have taken place.

Image: modem via Shutterstock

A TELECOMS COMPANY in New Zealand is continuing to investigate the cause of a massive internet outage over the weekend, originally thought to be linked to users attempting to access nude celebrity photos.

More than 600,000 customers with internet provider Spark were left without access for as long as 36 hours after the system became overloaded.

A number of Spark customers’ modems are thought to have been hijacked for use in a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack on computers in Eastern Europe.

This is where a website is bombarded with fake requests, sometimes as many as thousands per second, overloading it servers and causing it to become inaccessible.

It was initially thought that hackers had tricked users who were looking to download recently leaked nude photos of celebrities. Instead, malware was installed on their computers.

However, a statement from the company this morning revealed that they were following a new line of inquiry – a cyber attack ‘from overseas, to overseas’.

According to The Age, a vulnerability in 138 old, incorrectly configured, modems allowed hackers to route this cyber attack through user’s computers, to attack websites in Eastern Europe.

“While we’re not ruling out malware as a factor, we have also identified that cyber criminals have been accessing vulnerable customer modems on our network,” a statement on the company’s Facebook page read.

These modems have been identified as having “open DNS resolver” functionality, which means they can be used to carry out internet requests for anyone on the internet. This makes it easier for cyber criminals to ‘bounce’ an internet request off them

“Most of these modems were not supplied by Spark and tend to be older or lower-end modems… We have now disconnected those modems from our network and are contacting all the affected customers.”

Computer security specialists Trend Micro issued an alert shortly before the attack began warning not to open links related to the nude celebrities.

“For obvious reasons, clicking on links to ‘naked celebrity’ photos, or opening email attachments would be a very bad idea right now, expect criminals to ride this bandwagon immediately,” it said.

Trend Micro said users who clicked the link offering to show a video of the actress were directed to download a “video converter” that was actually malicious software.

Additional reporting © AFP, 2014

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Nicky Ryan

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