A rash of Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks continues to plague the online poker industry. The most recent victim: the Winning Poker Network (WPN), which had to abandon its extremely ambitious million dollar guaranteed tournament on Sunday because of technical difficulties most likely caused by a DDoS attack.
WPN is one of the few offshore online poker networks that still caters to players in the United States. It is not large, averaging only 300 cash game players over the past seven days according to PokerScout.com, so hosting a tournament that guarantees a million dollars in prizes is quite a step. BetCRIS, 5Dimes, and America’s Cardroom are amongst the dozen or so online poker rooms on the network.
The network had apparently been the victim of DDoS attacks a week prior, but it looked like things had gotten back to normal in the days leading up to Sunday’s big event. Wishful thinking, that was. Not long after the tournament started (it did get off the ground without a hitch), a number of glitches started affecting players; things like tables freezing, players timing out, and the like. The network paused the tournament twice, but because the issues kept happening, the decision was eventually made to cancel the tournament about four and a half hours into play with about 45 minutes remaining in the late registration period. Players were presented with the following message at the tables:
Due to circumstances out of our control, we have been unable to provide a stable, fair gaming experience. Many players timed out, while others remained connected. As per our terms and conditions, the tournament has been cancelled and buy-ins and fees have been refunded to all participants.
Naturally, players still in the tournament were furious, having spent all that time playing only to have the tournament shut down, but what really made some people made was the fact that WPN was simply refunding everyone’s money, rather than distributing the prize pool to those who remained in the event.
On Monday, WPN CEO Phil Nagy took to Twitch.tv to let players know what was going on. He looked exhausted and depressed seemed to be genuinely upset about having to cancel the tournament. “I’ll tell you what, this is not easy,” he said at the outset.
He continued, “Well, I don’t even know where to start. This has probably – and like you care – been one of the hardest…the hardest week of my life.”
Nagy explained the problem the network was having, making it pretty obvious that it was a DDoS attack, even though he didn’t come straight out and use that term. “When you have these internet connectivity issues, you have to filter out the bad traffic that’s coming in, that’s causing the internet connectivity issues, and with that, you filter out some good traffic. Hence, players get disconnected, but the site stays online,” he said.
He apologized for the problems and said that he thought they were in the clear because the attacks had stopped before the tournament, but “Whoever was causing the Internet disconnections was waiting for the million [dollar guaranteed tournament]. The second that it started, it [the attack] started.”
A Distributed Denial of Service Attack, in a nutshell, happens when two or more people (or automated bots) flood a machine, in this case the WPN server(s) with communications requests. The requests overwhelm the machine, preventing it from handling legitimate requests and either slowing it to a crawl or forcing it to be reset.
The million dollar guaranteed tournament has been rescheduled for February 22nd.