Grad Students Theorize on How to Crash Internet

Dennis Faas's picture

A computer science graduate student and his friends claim to have found a way to use distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks to take down large gateways of the Internet -- an act never before thought possible.

The method, referred to as the "Coordinated Cross Plane Session Termination (CXPST) Attack," would require approximately 250,000 personal computers to target the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) network routers in the attack. This style of coordinated denial of service attack is referred to as utilizing botnet, or a virtual "robot" network of computers under the control of a few individuals.

Once a CXPST botnet had been established, it would then utilize a complimentary system of attacks called "ZMW" (named after its authors Zhang, Mao and Wang).

Crashing the Internet

First, the botnet analyzes the current state of BGP connections which measures the time it takes for packets to travel across the Internet from one router to another. The ZMW attacks would then target only the most critical BGP routers, leading to an act known as "route flapping".

Next, a CXPST attack is orchestrated to recognize when a BGP router is resetting and attack other BGP routers as quickly as possible. By the time the initial BGP router comes back online, it's theorized that other supportive routers will go down faster than they can automatically reset themselves. (Source:

Essentially, the 250,000-computer botnet would account for an increase in traffic load on nearly half of the BGP routers by a factor of 20 or more. With that level of increase, routers would not have a chance to recover from resetting, resulting in a crash.

Manual Reboot Only Option for Repair

"Once the attack has been launched, it would not be solved by any technical means, but by network operators actually talking to each other," says graduate student Max Schuchard. In other words, every BGP router would need a manual reboot. (Source:

While the thought of a complete Internet shutdown would cause havoc for millions of people who rely on the Internet for business, banking, etc., analysts believe that such an attack could never actually happen.

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