Security Experts:

Meetup.com Battles DDoS Attacks, Extortion

The website Meetup.com is back online after a powerful distributed denial-of-service attack was launched against the site.

The attack began Thursday when an attacker sent an extortion demand for $300 to Meetup CEO Scott Heiferman in an email. According to the CEO, the attack began simultaneously, overwhelming the site's servers with traffic.

"We got to work mitigating the attack, but we remained unavailable for nearly 24 hours," he blogged. "Service was restored Friday at 9.30am EST, but it took many hours for the changes we implemented to defend against the attack to be distributed across the Internet. Many folks did not see us come back up before we were hit again."

"On Saturday at 4 pm EST, we received another severe DDoS attack," he continued. "By midnight EST, the engineering team implemented a new solution, and Meetup’s website and apps were widely accessible again. On Sunday, at 8:09 pm EST, another strong attack began again, taking Meetup down for a third time. We spent the past several days taking every step to ensure the site and apps are available."

The site was down for part of the day as the company recovered from the attack.

Heiferman blogged that the company did not pay the ransom because it does not negotiate with criminals and capitulating could make the site a target in the future.

"The extortion dollar amount suggests this to be the work of amateurs, but the attack is sophisticated," he opined. "We believe this lowball amount is a trick to see if we are the kind of target who would pay.  We believe if we pay, the criminals would simply demand much more. Payment could make us (and all well-meaning organizations like us) a target for further extortion demands as word spreads in the criminal world."

Heiferman made the right decision not to negotiate, said Frank Ip, vice president of U.S. Operations at NSFOCUS, adding that it could start "a vicious cycle that we've seen in similar circumstances."

"Fortunately, the perpetrator is not very sophisticated in this case, as he is using a lot of resources to launch a massive volume attack that is only causing periodic Web and mobile outages," he said.

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