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The Biggest Cyberattack in Internet History Happened Yesterday

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ThinkStock

By Chris Gayomali

Things on the web feel a little sluggish yesterday? You weren't imagining things. Security experts claim that the largest cyberattack in Internet history happened yesterday, slowing services like Netflix to a crawl and making other global websites completely unreachable. The traffic jam was all due to a very public spat between a Dutch webhosting company and a quiet spam-fighting organization. Here's what you need to know.

What's going on?

Spamhaus is a non-profit that — you guessed it — helps organizations fight spam and other unwanted stuff by providing them with content filters. The company keeps tabs of malicious servers on exhaustive blacklists. The trouble began when Spamhaus blacklisted a Dutch company called Cyberbunker, a service that offers hosting to any kind of website "except child porn and anything related to terrorism." A Cyberbunker spokesman said that Spamhaus was abusing its power, and should not be allowed to decide "what goes and does not go on the Internet."

So who's attacking whom?

Spamhaus says Cyberbunker has been retaliating with a powerful denial of service, or DDoS, attack. The attacks, which Spamhaus claims started on March 19, are reaching "previously unknown magnitudes, growing to a data stream of 300 billion bits per second," says the New York Times. (For comparison, similar DDoS attacks that crippled major banks peaked at 50 billion bits.) "It's a real number," says Patrick Gilmore, chief architect of Akamai Technologies, a digital content provider. "It is the largest publicly announced DDoS attack in the history of the Internet." 

So Cyberbunker is attacking Spamhaus directly?

Not exactly. Cyberbunker doesn't appear to be responding to anyone's request for comment. Spamhaus, on the other hand, asserts that Cyberbunker was cooperating with "criminal gangs" from Eastern Europe and Russia to coordinate the DDoS attacks. These attacks are said to be organized by "swarms of computers called botnets," says the Times. The technique "uses a long-known flaw in the Internet's basic plumbing," akin to "using a machine gun to spray an entire crowd when the intent is to kill one person." In other words, it's causing a major data pile-up.

Who are these attacks affecting?

Not to get too technical, but the reason these attacks are so crippling is because they flooded Spamhaus' Domain Name System, or DNS, with massive amounts of its own data. Spamhaus hosts 80 servers around the world, and hackers "target[ed] every part of the Internet infrastructure that they feel can be brought down," says Steve Linford, chief executive of Spamhaus. As such, millions of Internet users trying to access the web could have experienced delays. Security experts are concerned that as the attacks get more powerful, basic Internet services like email and banking may be jeopardized.

Who first discovered it?

The attacks were first mentioned publicly by a Silicon Valley firm called CloudFare, which was hired by Spamhaus for security. However, in trying to defend against the DDoS attacks, it, too, ended up being attacked. "These things are essentially like nuclear bombs," said CloudFlare chief executive Matthew Prince. "It's so easy to cause so much damage." Other companies like Google did their part to keep the Internet held together, and lent Spamhaus resources to "absorb all this traffic."

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Employees at Antarctica's McMurdo Station Are Throwing a Party for Pride Month
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Employees at Antarctica's McMurdo Station are gearing up to celebrate Pride month in one of the world's harshest environments. On Saturday, June 9, the station will host what Hannah Valian, who deals with the center's recycling efforts, calls "one of the larger parties ever thrown" at the station.

McMurdo Station is an Antarctic research facility owned and operated by the United States. The station is more sparsely populated during Antarctica's colder autumn and winter seasons (which run from March to September), but employees tell us there's still a decent-sized LGBTQ scene to celebrate this June.

About 10 of the 133 people currently at McMurdo identify as LGBTQ, says Rachel Bowens-Rubin, a station laboratory assistant. Valian said the idea for a Pride celebration came up in May at one of the station's regular LGBTQ socials.

"Everyone got really excited about it," she tells Mental Floss via email. "So we ran with it."

Ten individuals are wearing coats while holding a rainbow-colored Pride flag. They are standing in snow with mountains in the distance.
"I hope when people see this photo they'll be reminded that LGBTQ people aren't limited to a place, a culture, or a climate," McMurdo's Evan Townsend tells Mental Floss. "We are important and valuable members of every community, even at the bottom of the world."
Courtesy of Shawn Waldron

Despite reports that this is the continent's first Pride party, none of the event's organizers are convinced this is the first Pride celebration Antarctica has seen. Sous chef Zach Morgan tells us he's been attending LGBTQ socials at McMurdo since 2009.

"The notion is certainly not new here," he says.

To Evan Townsend, a steward at the station, this weekend's Pride event is less a milestone and more a reflection of the history of queer acceptance in Antarctica.

"If anything," Townsend says, "recognition belongs to those who came to Antarctica as open members of the LGBTQ community during much less welcoming times in the recent past."

This week, though, McMurdo's employees only had positive things to say about the station's acceptance of LGBTQ people.

"I have always felt like a valued member of the community here," Morgan tells us in an email. "Most people I've met here have been open and supportive. I've never felt the need to hide myself here, and that's one of the reasons I love working here."

Saturday's celebration will feature a dance floor, photo booth, lip sync battles, live music, and a short skit explaining the history of Pride, Valian says.

"At the very least, I hope the attention our Pride celebration has garnered has inspired someone to go out and explore the world, even if they might feel different or afraid they might not fit in," Morgan says. "'Cause even on the most inhospitable place on Earth, there's still people who will love and respect you no matter who you are."

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New Nap Pods—Complete with Alarm Clocks and Netflix—Set for A Trial Run at Airports This Summer
Courtesy of Airpod
Courtesy of Airpod

Sleepy travelers in Europe can soon be on the lookout for Airpods, self-contained capsules designed to help passengers relax in privacy.

For 15 euros per hour (roughly $18), travelers can charge their phones, store their luggage, and, yes, nap on a chair that reclines into a bed. The Airpods are also equipped with television screens and free streaming on Netflix, Travel + Leisure reports.

To keep things clean between uses, each Airpod uses LED lights to disinfect the space and a scent machine to manage any unfortunate odors.

The company's two Slovenian founders, Mihael Meolic and Grega Mrgole, expect to conduct a trial run of the service by placing 10 pods in EU airports late this summer. By early 2019, they expect to have 100 Airpods installed in airports around the world, though the company hasn't yet announced which EU airports will receive the first Airpods.

The company eventually plans to introduce an element of cryptocurrency to its service. Once 1000 Airpods are installed (which the company expects to happen by late 2019), customers can opt in to a "Partnership Program." With this program, participants can become sponsors of one specific Airpod unit and earn up to 80 percent of the profits it generates each month. The company's cryptocurrency—called an APOD token—is already on sale through the Airpod website.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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