Al Jazeera's web site – DDoSed or unplugged?

Whatever - it's the coming back that might be trickier


The launch of Arab satellite TV network Al Jazeera's new Web site on Monday drew immediate hack attacks, but this has been swiftly followed up by the disappearance of the site's DNS records. These now point to mydomain.com nameservers, but this company's site is also currently inaccessible; as you might expect, under the circumstances.

Al Jazeera (aljazeera.net, for the record) could have been taken offline by DDoS attacks, but considering the timing one is also drawn to the possibility that something involving a Big Red Switch might have been involved. Prior to the site's complete removal company IT manager Salah Al Seddiqui told Reuters that its Qatar-based vendor had said "US-based DataPipe could no longer host its site from the end of this month," and that Al Jazeera would be moving its servers to Europe.

Al Jazeera had two listed nameservers - one at datapipe.com and one at nav-link.net. NavLink has offices in the US (it's incorporated in Delaware), Europe and the Middle East (the UAE and Lebanon), so there's a logic to Al Jazeera using it. However if the dual-server system is intended to provide some form of resilience it clearly hasn't worked.

The problem seems to have taken Al Jazeera unawares. When The Register spoke to the company's London office earlier today they said that their most recent information from Qatar had been that the site was unavailable because of heavy demand, and that they were trying to get through to Qatar for an update.

Al Jazeera is not, as you will no doubt have noticed, universally popular, and today in particular it has been heavily criticised by UK military spokesmen for screening pictures of dead British servicemen. But even at the best of times the network is not a customer that many hosting companies in the US would want to boast about. At the worst of times - which probably includes now - it's unlikely the company would stand any chance whatsoever of being accepted by US providers.

So it's perfectly possible that someone along the line decided, owing to pressure and/or common prudence, not to continue involvement with the company. This sort of thing might of course trigger legal action, but Al Jazeera itself is well-aware that it treads a very tricky line, so probably won't want to make unnecessary waves. And as its site was already pretty unavailable because of the attacks, and it's said it's heading off to Europe, what difference would it make?

That you will note is one of two possible conspiracy theories, and does not necessarily involve US.gov. But we expect that if the site hadn't disappeared already, pretty soon US.gov would get involved until it did - which is conspiracy theory two.

The alternative to the conspiracy theories is that weaknesses in Al Jazeera's DNS meant they were vulnerable to load, and that the disappearance of the DNS was therefore a consequence of the attack. As we understand it, this is technically possible, although it has also been suggested to us that the company's DNS did not come under an insupportable load during the attacks.

So right now we think the jury is still out. But in the long run the question of whether the company was DDoSed or unplugged will be fairly academic. Given that it's pretty much unthinkable that it could have been allowed to continue running via US companies, it was going to go anyway, one way or the other. Europe might be some form of solution, but one might estimate that here too quite a few hosting outfits will view Al Jazeera as a poisoned chalice, a customer with a profile several notches to high.

And even if it does get itself sorted out on the other side of the pond, it will still be likely to gain experience of how much of the Internet, when it comes down to it, is actually US-owned. But perhaps it has some cards. US companies wanting to play in the Middle East are unlikely to find their local operations going down a storm if they're refusing to do business with a popular TV station like Al Jazeera, so they'll be pressured in both directions. That's the trouble with the Internet - it connects things that sometimes you'd rather didn't get connected. ®


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