As residents of New Jersey were getting ready to celebrate Independence Day late last week, those who tried to partake in a little online gambling on Thursday afternoon were met with some unwanted resistance. According to NJ.com and later reported by numerous media outlets, four of New Jersey’s internet gaming sites were hit by a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack, causing them to be inaccessible for a short period of time.
“At least four casinos were impacted and experienced downtime,” New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE) Director David Rebuck said. “We’re continuing to monitor.”
He added that the attack lasted about 30 minutes. According to net-security.org, that is a fairly standard length of time for a DDoS attack, as 90 percent of such attacks last less than half an hour.
The names of the affected websites were not released, though of course players who tried to logon to them and encountered problems should know which ones were hit. There are 16 authorized online gambling sites in New Jersey, most of which are internet casinos. The online poker rooms in the state are BorgataPoker.com and nj.partypoker.com (which are skins of the same room) as well as us.888.com, us.888poker.com, and WSOP.com (the latter three are also skins of the same room).
Rebuck said that the person who initiated the attack threatened to follow-up with a stronger attack in 24 hours unless he was paid a ransom in Bitcoin. The ransom was not paid and he did not do anything else. New Jersey authorities believe they know who the culprit is. Said Rebuck, “He’s a known actor. He’s done this before.”
A DDoS attack happens when someone (or multiple people) floods a computer – the gaming servers in this case – with communications requests appearing to come from numerous sources. The requests are bogus; they are just sent to confuse the machine. Computer security is usually good enough to weed out illegitimate requests, but the problem with a DDoS attack is that these requests come so quickly and in such great volume that the machine has trouble differentiating them from valid requests fast enough. Thus, the server either slows down considerably as it tries to sort everything out or just crashes altogether.
DDoS attacks are also difficult to stop because, as the name says, they are “distributed.” They are not coming from just one origin. Therefore, the target machine has difficulty tracing them.
This is not the first time online gambling sites have been victims of DDoS attacks, but because of the youth of the U.S. online gambling industry, it has happened more often overseas. In April, Betfair, Unibet, and PokerStars were all hit within a short time frame. In December, the Winning Poker Network (WPN), one of the few that still accepts U.S. customers while overseas, was specifically targeted when it was running a million dollar guaranteed tournament. WPN had been attacked a week before the tournament, but because the attacks stopped a few days before the event, management thought the network was in the clear. They were wrong. A DDoS attack hit the tournament right away; network management tried to keep the tourney going, pausing it on a couple occasions to try to get things under control, but the decision was eventually made to cancel the event and refund everyone’s buy-ins and fees.