The Undernet, part of the chat network IRC (Internet Relay Chat), is under attack from hackers. The siege also hurts other services offered by companies that run Undernet servers.
In a statement on Undernet.org released Sunday, operators said companies offering Undernet services have been hit with Denial of Service (DoS) attacks. The servers are flooded with phony information requests, overloading the systems and forcing a shutdown.
"At the peak of the attacks our network was hit with 600 megabit per second in traffic, 30 times the normal load. We were unreachable for about 10 minutes," says Ruben van der Ley, infrastructure manager at Dutch website hosting company Vuurwerk Internet, which operates an Undernet server.
The attacks used up Vuurwerk's full bandwidth capacity, blocking access to the thousands of websites the company hosts for its clients. Vuurwerk is the second largest web hosting company in the Netherlands.
Most Undernet servers are operated by internet service providers (ISPs) and website hosting companies. In the US, for example, America Online (AOL) and MindSpring Enterprises host Undernet servers.
The attacks started last Friday and have been going on since, Van der ley says. Romania seems to be the origin of the attacks.
"It is very hard to determine who the attacker is. The attacks come in 10-minute bursts, which doesn't give us enough time to do a proper trace," says Van der Ley, adding that the attacks come from many computers; a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack.
"It is impossible to counteract the attacks. All we can do is sit and wait for the attack to end," he says.
In the statement, the IRC operators say the situation threatens the existence of the Undernet IRC network.
"To put it simply, we cannot provide you (the user) with a free and stable IRC service if that means the companies providing that service must continually suffer the loss of customers and revenue, the cost is simply too great," the representatives of the Undernet IRC Network say.
Millions of internet users use IRC. The chat system offers text-only chats and predates applications like AOL's Instant Messenger. Undernet is one of the larger networks with 30 servers around the world. To access the service a user needs to install a special client.