The government was monitoring a series of electronic attacks launched early Tuesday against U.S. Internet providers, hours after European authorities passed warnings to the FBI predicting the attacks.
The impact from the attacks appeared limited, and there were no reports of outages or even delayed e-mails.
A flood of data, spiking nearly 700 percent more than usual traffic, was aimed at Internet providers and Web sites on the East coast starting about 2 a.m. EDT, then shifted toward providers and sites on the West coast, said a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
But unlike some recent so-called "denial of service" attacks, which employed hundreds or thousands of computers to overwhelm Web sites, this latest attack appeared to be coming from a relatively small number of machines, the official said. That has allowed Internet providers to protect their networks more easily by filtering data from the attacking computers.
The FBI issued a dramatic warning hours before the attacks started, based on information from Italian authorities, the U.S. official said. The alert cited "credible but non-specific information that wide-scale hacker attacks" were planned against U.S. Web sites and Internet providers, "possibly emanating from Western Europe."
The earliest attacks targeted East Coast companies, including some in Virginia and Maryland, then shifted to target sites in Seattle, the official said. The White House and FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center were monitoring the attacks.
Some experts indicated the attacks were so easily foiled that they did not register any impact on the health of the Internet.
"We haven't seen anything out of the ordinary," said Chris Rouland of Atlanta-based Internet Security Systems, which sells protective software to thousands of companies. "We're paying attention to any sites that may go down."
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