Last night, I had almost completed such a monumental task, that it seemed the world held its breath, and one of the most popular websites widened its eyes at my efforts. I was working on one of the most intense tasks that can be completed using a computer, something that truly showcases cunning, daring, intelligence and drive beyond all reasonable doubt.
I had almost finished my Christmas shopping.
However, with half an hour or so to go before I hit the checkout, Amazon died. I tried reloading. Still dead. The reality dawned on me, I realised that when Anonymous stated they didn’t have the numbers to pull down Amazon.com, they’d decided on a “smaller” target: Amazon EU. Of course, within minutes Twitter was ablaze with Christmas shoppers, irate that one of the busiest online shopping days of the year had been interrupted for political reasons.
Now, I became pretty torn. On the one hand, I think the idea of a political hacktivist is something quite incredible. If you’re a company who severed ties with an organisation who could be said to be standing up for openness and freedom of speech (the very bedrocks’ of Western democracy), then they’re coming for you. Fine. But not when it interrupts the Christmas shopping of others, right? Then I noticed a retweet of some poor bloke who’d been stuck thousands of miles from home with no cash due to Visa getting hit hard by the Anonymous chaps.
It makes you think, doesn’t it. Why are businesses so vulnerable to the biggest modern threat to their continued operation and success? DDoS (distributed denial of service) attacks are nothing new, but online stores and services are likely to collapse completely whenever they occur. I’m sure Amazon has a phone network, not to mention considerable externally hosted (I’d hope, anyway) customer support, so why was everyone left in the cold?
As it is, they deny that it was a WikiLeaks-motivated hack, but let’s be realistic, here. Amazon are in essence implying their hardware is poor rather than admit they were the victims of a DDoS attack. This is ridiculous, and if anything confirms it was Anonymous, who were tweeting about it being down, but not admitting being the culprits because they were reluctant to lose their accounts again.
As for the thousands, if not millions of customers Amazon was serving that weekend, did none of them think to ring Amazon up? Of course not, because unlike a shop that has both online and physical storefronts, Amazon has no back-up plan, and therein lies the rub. If you were, like me, on the verge of not having things delivered in time (and thankfully I’ve swung it, in the end) and there wasn’t even a phone number you could call to order your goods, you were stuffed.
If you’re a small business that sells goods in an online-only fashion, take careful, careful note. The internet is a fickle thing at best, and although none of you will be hosting WikiLeaks any time soon (though credit to you if you do), be careful how you treat your customers while your site is vulnerable to an attack against which there is no defense whatsoever.
Take care of your customers – update your error pages, offer them customer support numbers and email addresses, and reassure them that while you may be getting pushed over by the big DDoS bully in the playground, their data remains safe and the site will be up as soon as possible. Don’t do what Amazon did – deny the whole thing and never offer the majority of stuck shoppers any kind of updates or support. That way leads spoiled Christmases, and Amazon’s looking like the Grinch a little too much for their liking at the moment as it is.