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DDoS protection by CloudFlare
See this lately? Wondering what’s up?
Well, this Saturday, some jackasses decided they didn’t like us — nor Skepchick, nor Feminist Frequency — and tried to take us off the internet.
And they woulda gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for us meddling techs.
Some gearheaded stuff followed by some analysis of why this might have happened. Skip to the bolded red note if you aren’t so interested.
When I found out that our downtime Saturday night was anything sinister, I immediately got in touch with our webmaster, a rather clever chap who was already on the case. We had New Relic data for our site, external metrics that we could look at to figure out what was actually happening. As it turns out, while the site was under attack, the only metric that spiked was network — whoever attacked us used a pure network-based attack. It wasn’t loading the website itself, as our CPU was not taxed at all while our network was completely pegged. The metrics showed that from 7:49pm CST, til 7:54 when the server went offline, our network interface jumped up from its usual 2-ish megs a second all the way up to 100 megs a second where it capped out. The server was totally responsive during this time, though.
The server only stopped responding because our web host detected the DDOS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack, and their automated systems null-routed our server. Us being a target was having a detrimental effect on the rest of their services, and they had to block the target at the firewall. This automated script was set up to block for an hour. After that hour was up, we were able to get in for a little while. I downloaded the Apache logs during that time. But the attack continued, and our host automatically blocked us again — this time for four hours. This pattern would continue with the time exponentially increasing repeatedly, apparently.
However, while investigating the problem, our web guy discovered that the previous tech — who’d since abdicated the position with family issues — had the server set up in such a way that it responded on another IP as well, and we could get in and do more diagnostics. We learned that Apache, the web server program serving all these page requests, was not actually receiving any spurious requests when the site was under attack, correlating the belief that the attack was “dumb” — not intended to hack us, or cause a denial of service by causing too much CPU load. They just aimed a fire hose at us and fired away.
The attackers themselves, in addition, were attacking the server directly — bypassing the Cloudflare service we’d put between us and the internet. Normally, getting the IP address of your target server is not possible when attacking something behind a CDN like Cloudflare, but there were a few sub-domains pointing to the same IP address and the attacker obviously found one. Because we had a second IP already pointed to the domain, and our hosting provider’s script was kind of terrible in its lack of intelligence by null-routing only the IP being attacked, we were able to give Cloudflare that other IP instead. This one isn’t set up anywhere else but Cloudflare.
So, the attack profile that we faced last time won’t work again. Something would have to change, and some info would have to be obtained that the attackers don’t have presently. We also ratcheted up the Cloudflare protection, though that might not be entirely necessary any more. Plus, we’re planning on moving to a new web hosting provider soon anyway, a company that has more experience with dealing with DOS attacks and does stuff a little more surgically than effectively just turning off our server’s internet connection.
Skepchick recovered with the help of their hosting provider, and I’m not actually sure how Anita Sarkeesian recovered from the attack. This is probably a good thing, honestly. It means they’ve got people watching their back too — techs like our clever web guy.
That all answers the question of “how”, to the degree that I’m comfortable answering it without giving away too much. But the real question that interests me the most is, “why?”
The less technically-inclined can skip to here!
The obvious answer lies in the choice of targets. Why would anyone target Freethought Blogs, Skepchick and Feminist Frequency all at the same time? Because we’re feminists, and we have platforms on the internet. That much is pretty clear — and this despite the fact that Freethought Blogs has over fifty bloggers across thirty-five blogs, few of whom talk about gender issues, and not all of whom are feminists. We are, despite some vocal assholes’ exclamations, a fairly diverse crew. If we’re groupthink at anything, it’s that we’re all proudly atheist, and the majority of us are liberal with the odd libertarian streak.
But there’s this perception that because some of the more prominent voices are feminist, so too is all of Freethought Blogs. And so the “big lies” of us being bullies for being feminists rage on, for having moderation policies on our blogs, for generally disagreeing with the more strident antifeminist and otherwise libertarian factions within movement secularism and atheism. We have a place where reasonable discussion can happen, and sometimes the only way that can happen is by tossing out the hyper-fixated and unreasonable interlocutors. Nobody balks when the person being banned on the blog is David Mabus, but some people really lose their shit when the person being banned is a libertarian in otherwise good standing elsewhere, who just happens to be perniciously arguing against things like the sociologically sound concept of privilege and is doing so in the most uncivil manner imaginable.
So you get this crew of people who have a sense of entitlement, who misunderstand what “freedom of speech” is, who think that because you have a place on the internet and the internet is publicly accessible, you are absolutely forbidden from having a moderation policy, or else you’re a censorious fascist nazi something-something. The cries of being “blocked for disagreement” get repeated and eventually believed by the faction that refuses to engage in civil discourse, and refuses to acknowledge they were actually banned for being raging assholes. Some of these people have tech savvy. They believe that because places like Feminist Frequency, where comments on videos and the blog are disabled because of the thousands of death and rape threats Anita Sarkeesian endures anyplace they’re enabled, do not allow the publication of these rape and death threats on their server, they are therefore against free speech. (These misunderstandings of the concept are what led people to counter by calling their misapprehensions “Freeze Peach”.)
So these tech-savvy people, with little understanding of free speech, take it upon themselves to get revenge — if they can’t have their immoral, atavistic displays of rage and lack of empathy published where they want them to be published, then the server should be taken off the internet entirely. They get themselves a botnet, they aim a network firehose at their targets, and they blast them right off the internet altogether. That’ll learn ‘em for disagreeing with you, right?
So much for free speech.
“He puts one of your guys in the hospital, you put all of his in the morgue”, to appropriately scale the quote from The Untouchables. If I can’t post on your blog, neither can you or anyone else for as long I decide. If I can’t enter your home and shout slurs at you through a bullhorn, then I’ll burn your house down.
Hacking or DOSing a place that disagrees with you because you can’t out-reason them, well, that’s pretty unbecoming for someone who is likely also an atheist. It smacks of the mental trap behind Self Projection As God: your voice alone isn’t enough to force people to conform to your will, so you claim that a supreme deity also wants others to do that thing that you’d prefer. Only in this case, these people are taking matters into their own hand, probably because they know there are no gods. They amplify their voice beyond their actual ability to reason and argue and have discourses, since they’ve already failed at the attempt. They take vengeance by preventing their targets from being able to speak.
They’ve taken on the role of the government in the argument about free speech — they’ve taken upon themselves extraordinary power to block others from being able to speak. And I don’t mean in the limited sense of being blocked on a single blog, I mean they’ve been blocked from speaking at all.
I don’t have any real evidence tying this even to a member of our community, but we’ve already seen a number of people with libertarian, anti-feminist bents who are otherwise respected (for some reason) in this community — people who claim that we got what was coming to us, that the DDOS was somehow defensible or even justified, all because certain people are banned at our blogs for being assholes. If we were anything like the censorious fascist monsters this contingent makes us out to be, though, this action is STILL not justified.
I absolutely support freedom of speech. When I ban someone, I tell them to take their nonsense elsewhere. I sometimes helpfully point them to one of a number of free blogging services where they can vent their spleens freely — my kicking them out of my pub does not prevent them from visiting other pubs or even starting one of their own. I might even link to them to point people to their terrible arguments on occasion, by way of doing a fisking or even just a facepalming post. And I can assure you, if someone from the slimepit, or, say, A Voice for Men, or some other such hate site, had problems with their server that they thought I could help with, I would be a consummate professional and offer them my normal (undiscounted) consulting fee, delivered in escrow, while I work on the problem on their behalf.
Mind you, I know this is an empty promise, because the former is convinced that the size of my penis and how it apparently fits into a thimble determines my worth in this world, judging by their pet name for me; and the latter is convinced that I’m only good as someone to throw under a bus on occasion, in order to prove some larger point about the evils of women. But I’m being completely honest when I say that if they offered me money to help them fix their server, or to help them recover from a DDOS attack, or whatever other technological or sociological problem was preventing them from speaking freely on the internet, I would do it. I wouldn’t even hesitate. Not because I am particularly hard up for money, but because I love free speech that much. They could even be assured that I would do nothing to compromise their security, or destroy their server, because not only am I a professional, but I have an extremely strong moral impulse and I have empathy for them even when they have none for me.
Besides, how else can I “drama blog” by pointing to things that they say that I disagree with, the way that they do every single day? How else can I use their words to show how their philosophies are atavistic or antisocial or detrimental to humanity or the cause of egalitarianism if their words are scrubbed from the internet by a truly censorious asshole with a script and a botnet and a grudge?
I WANT their speech on the internet. They, or some subset of them at least, DON’T want MINE.
I will always side with the people fighting to ensure that established platforms aren’t yanked out from under them, even while I will argue unabashedly that this does not extend to your speech on someone else’s platform and that freedom of association enshrines that you damn well get to choose who’s on your platform for whatever reason.
Freedom of speech as a right ensures that a government — an entity with supreme power in this world — cannot take your right to speak away. A blog is not a supreme power like a government, and much like a home, you are not entitled to someone else’s private property. By trying to burn someone else’s home down, you are the one in the wrong. You are the one being censorious, and you are the one who has ceded any moral high ground or appearance of intellectual enlightenment.
And all because you were incapable in the first place of arguing your points without acting like an asshole.