Twitter harpooned, Internet survives (just barely)

The attack on Twitter shows not only how vulnerable the microblog is, but also how dependent we've become on it. That's a dangerous combination.

Maybe you didn't notice, but yesterday was International Anti-Tweet Day. Twitter, the microblog most people either love or hate, disappeared from the Internet for a few hours yesterday morning, then popped in and out for most of the afternoon.

As MediaJobsDaily put it:

Twitter wasn't just down, it was so down that you didn't even see a Fail Whale when you tried to load the page. Down and dirty down. Downer than down. That's how down it was.

But this time Twitter didn't go down for the usual reason: being unable to keep up with the volume of tweets. This whale of a fail was due to a deliberate attack that also affected Facebook, Live Journal, and Google.

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Today security experts are still scratching their heads over why the attacks happened. IT Harvest's Richard Stiennon suggested hackers were steamed that Twitter had stolen the shine from their own preferred methods of micro-interaction, IRC and ICQ. (Richard, I love ya, but ... hacker jealousy? Really?)

AVG's Roger Thompson thought white-hat vigilantes launched the attack to point out the dangers of botnets (because there have only been, oh, a few thousand examples of this already). He also thinks the attacker was the same one who's been pelting U.S. and South Korean government sites with malicious packets. (Damn. I knew I shouldn't have tweeted those snarky jokes about Kim Jong-Il. My bad.)

Those jokers over at eSarcasm also list 22 other reasons why Twitter may have failed. I think they may need to adjust their meds.

Here's the theory that was thrown at the wall and seems to have stuck: According to an account first published in Cnet, Facebook top security dog Mark Max Kelly says the entire fiasco was a coordinated attack aimed at silencing one person from the Republic of Georgia who goes by the handle "Cyxymu," after the Georgian city with the same vowel-challenged name.

Sophos security wonk Graham Cluely gives more heft to this idea, noting that today is the first anniversary of Georgian troops moving into South Ossetia, which triggered a brief and disastrous war with Russia.

The New York Times quotes Bill Woodcock of the Packet Clearing House, who says the packet storm originated from IP addresses in Abkhazia, a disputed territory between Russia and Georgia. He attributes the cause to spam, not a botnet.

So Cyxymu clearly ticked off the wrong Russians. We got that. But 30 million users taken offline, security teams at Twitter, Facebook, and Live Journal scrambling to fend off the attack, all just to get one guy? That's the really chilling part.

The other big story that emerges from this is how dependent many of us have become on social media. It's not just folks who live or die by their favorite celebrity tweets. (FYI, Paris Hilton spent yesterday at the beach, where she collected "many beautiful shells," while Paula Abdul continues to shower in "the undying support and enormous love" of her fans. Now you're all caught up.)

Hundreds of startups are entirely dependent on Facebook and Twitter. As Fast Company's Chris Dannen writes:

If you think the combined stuttering of Twitter, Facebook and LiveJournal this morning...were rough for you, well, try dipping into the shoes of the developers who make software based on Facebook and Twitter APIs. Sure, you missed all of Ashton and Demi's tweets for a few hours. But for devs, the two goliath social networking services are their livelihoods. And what's surprising is how Facebook and Twitter left them completely in the dark.

Job seekers, Web marketers, reporters, customer support teams, political protestors in oppressed countries -- the list of folks who rely on Twitter is long and not entirely frivolous. Like it or not, in a very short time Twitter has become very important. As uber-MILF Brooke Burke told the Wall Street Journal, when she sent her usual morning tweet yesterday and never got a response, she was stunned:

"What is going on? Why isn't anybody responding? Why have I not gotten any tweets? It is just not normal." she recalls thinking. "It almost was like having no phone service."

Twitter is not Ma Bell ... yet. But one day it could be -- so long as the Russians (or the Koreans, the Chinese, and the hackers down the street) don't take it down first.

What did you do when Twitter's lights went out? Post your thoughts below or e-mail me: cringe@infoworld.com.

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