John Chamberlain
Developer Diary
 Developer Diary · You Heard It Here First · Tuesday 10 February 2004
Are DOS Attacks a Modern Day Ostracism?
Are denial of service (DOS) attacks a kind of modern day ostracism? In ancient Athens the practice of ostracism allowed citizens to vote once a year to banish a person from the city for ten years. The most likely targets were anyone who was famous and controversial. The most well-known ostracism was that of Alcibiades, a dynamic and controversial Athenian statesman.

In the internet age anyone with sufficient technical skill can mount a DOS attack on someone or some company of their choice. Any PC can easily initiate a hundred connections per second and with special software can probably reach a thousand connections per second. With fifty zombie machines at their disposal a hacker can pretty much take down any company's site unless it has dynamic blocking. Against a widespread virus that controls tens or hundreds of thousands of machines even dynamic blocking cannot defend. This is case with the MyDoom virus that has attacked SCO and Microsoft. Microsoft only escaped being taken down because a less virulent form of the virus attacked it.

These kinds of attacks seem to happen once a year just like ostracisms and the targets are the same: prominent but controversial entities. Off the radar many other companies that are less well known suffer DOS attacks all the time. Historians have debated the value of ostracism. Supporters say it keeps people humble. In America we traditionally dislike anyone who gets "too big for their britches", Bill Gates being a prime example.

There are differences of course. Ostracism was promoted by the city government and every citizen got one vote. A DOS attack has no institutional backing and is carried out by only one person or a small group of persons who are quasi-anonymous. In this sense there is the "kook" factor whereby an unbalanced individual can impose their prejudices on a much broader population. On the other hand the targets of internet ostracism so far seem to be the same kind of entities that would suffer if a real ostracism was conducted so maybe the kook factor is not as important as it may appear.

Man will accomplish his will whether it be by clay shards or copper and silicon. Moral of the story: don't get too big for your britches.

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