How cyber attacks knocked out popular sites last week

PhotoCredit: Alex Foley via Morguefile

PhotoCredit: Alex Foley via Morguefile

On Friday, hackers attacked a major piece of the internet’s infrastructure. This attack overwhelmed Pinterest, PayPal, CNN, Netflix, Fox News and about 80 other popular websites.

The individual sites weren’t attacked. Instead the hackers targeted something called a DNS server. Think of the DNS as a post office and the web sites as post office boxes. When you send mail to a person with a post office box, the letter gets delivered to the post office and then the post office directs it to the correct box. When you try to access CNN.com for instance, to read the latest news. Your computer asks the DNS server where CNN is, and the DNS directs you to the correct web page.

During the attack, hackers sent so many requests that the DNS was overwhelmed, like the post office the week before Christmas. Some requests got through, but some got trapped in the sorting room and others got sent back as undeliverable. It’s called a distributed denial of service attack or DDoS.

What does this mean for you?

Nothing really.

It was an inconvenience for many users, but no data or information was stolen. Your Paypal profile is still secure. Your credit card numbers have not been stolen. As a user, there’s not much you can do about this type of attack, except to be patient while the DNS addresses the problem.

For a list of affected sites and an hour by hour recap of what happened, check out this blog from Gizmodo.

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