Key parts of the internet infrastructure face large-scale attacks that threaten the global system of web traffic, the internet's address keeper warned Friday.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) declared after an emergency meeting "an ongoing and significant risk" to key parts of the infrastructure that affects the domains on which websites reside.
"They are going after the internet infrastructure itself," ICANN chief technology officer David Conrad told AFP.
"There have been targeted attacks in the past, but nothing like this."
The attacks date back as far as 2017 but have sparked growing concerns from security researchers in recent weeks, which prompted the special meeting of ICANN.
The malicious activity targets the Domain Name System or DNS which routes traffic to intended online destinations.
ICANN specialists and others say these attacks have a potential to snoop on data along the way, sneakily send the traffic elsewhere or enable the attackers to impersonate or "spoof" critical websites.
"There isn't a single tool to address this," Conrad said, as ICANN called for an overall hardening of web defenses.
US authorities issued a similar warning last month about the DNS attacks.
"This is roughly equivalent to someone lying to the post office about your address, checking your mail, and then hand delivering it to your mailbox," the US Department of Homeland Security said in a recent cybersecurity alert.
"Lots of harmful things could be done to you (or the senders) depending on the content of that mail."
- Middle East targets -
DNSpionage attacks might date back to at least 2017, according to FireEye senior manager of cyber espionage analysis Ben Read.
The list of targets included website registrars and internet service providers, particularly in the Middle East.
"We've seen primarily targeting of email names and passwords," Read said of what is being dubbed "DNSpionage."
"There is evidence that it is coming out of Iran and being done in support of Iran."
ICANN held an emergency meeting and is putting out word to website and online traffic handlers to ramp up security or leave users vulnerable to being tricked into trusting the wrong online venues.
DNSpionage hackers appeared intent on stealing account credentials, such as email passwords, in Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates, according to Crowdstrike cyber security firm vice president of intelligence Adam Meyers.
Similar attacks took place in Europe and other parts of the Middle East, with targets including governments, intelligence services, police, airlines, and the oil industry, cybersecurity specialists said.
"You definitely need knowledge of how the internet works you and have to handle a lot of traffic being directed to you," Meyers said of the DNSpionage hackers.
"With that access, they could temporarily break portions of how the internet works. They chose to intercept and spy on folks."