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Wayback Machine parent Internet Archive suffers cyberattack

The logo of California-based Internet Archive. (Photo by Arnold Gatilao via Wikimedia Commons)
The logo of California-based Internet Archive. (Photo by Arnold Gatilao via Wikimedia Commons)

The Internet Archive is in the process of dealing with a cyberattack that has crippled some of its online services for the past three days, the organization affirmed in an email to supporters on Monday.

The attack began Saturday when unknown individuals instigated a distributed denial of service, or DDoS, scheme, the organization said.

DDoS attacks involve using software to send a barrage of fraudulent traffic to websites in an attempt to crash them, with the goal of disrupting services.

“Thankfully the collections are safe, but we are sorry that the denial-of-service attack has knocked us offline intermittently during these last three days,” Brewster Kahle, the founder and digital librarian at the Internet Archive, said in a statement. “With the support from others and the hard work of staff we are hardening our defenses to provide more reliable access to our library. What is new is this attack has been sustained, impactful, targeted, adaptive, and importantly, mean.”

Kahle said libraries have faced numerous attacks along similar lines over the last few months. He specifically cited an attack that impacted the Solano County Public Library in California, which left systems unavailable for several weeks. Solano NewsNet reported the attack against the Solano County Library was an incident involving ransomware, and impacted computer and phone networks there. (Solano NewsNet and The Desk share common ownership.)

A ransomware attack involves cyber criminals gaining access to a computer network, then encrypting its files to the point that the actual owners of the system are unable to view them. The attackers typically demand a payment in Bitcoin in exchange for a promise to restore the network to its previous state. Federal law enforcement agencies warn against paying ransoms, saying the attackers rarely fulfill their end of the deal.

Those attacks are substantially different from the one the Internet Archive is facing, which results in temporary outages until the attack stops. DDoS attacks rarely cause permanent damage to a computer system, and services are generally restored once attackers grow bored or face obstacles to continue their campaign.

Kahle used the DDoS attack as an opportunity to draw attention to another issue the Internet Archive is facing: A lawsuit filed by book publishers after some of their intellectual property was made available for viewing and download by the Internet Archive.

Publishers say the Internet Archive is depriving authors and other stakeholders of revenue by making their copyrighted material freely available on the Internet. In its defense, the Internet Archive says they operate in the same manner as a physical library, where materials are loaned to patrons within certain parameters.

“If our patrons around the globe think this latest situation is upsetting, then they should be very worried about what the publishing and recording industries have in mind,” Kahle said. “I think they are trying to destroy this library entirely and hobble all libraries everywhere. But just as we’re resisting the DDoS attack, we appreciate all the support in pushing back on this unjust litigation against our library and others.”

It is the second time that the Internet Archive has faced a web outage due to unusual activity. Last year, individuals using virtual machines through Amazon Web Services scraped thousands of files from the Internet Archive, impacting the organization’s ability to remain online for a brief period of time.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 11 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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