The Serious Organised Crime Agency’s website was temporarily shut down today after a cyber attack.
It was the victim of a scam known as distributed denial of service (DDOS) whereby an internet address is flooded with bogus traffic, effectively making it unreachable.
The actions can also jam other websites hosted by the same provider which is why the agency decided to go offline.
A SOCA spokesman said: ‘It is important to stress this is not a hacking attack. A DDOS is entirely different where a large number of computers try to access the site at the same time.
‘The huge flow of traffic causes the website to potentially fall over. We took the decision to take down the site at 10pm last night to limit the impact on other clients hosted by the same service provider.
‘It is a temporary inconvenience and we will put the site back up once the action stops. We cannot say at the moment when that might be.’
He went on: ‘It is also important to stress there was no security risk and the website only contains publicly available information, it does not provide access to operational material.’
DDOS attacks on the Soca website have previously been linked to the loose-knit international ‘hacktivist’ group Anonymous.
The spokesman added that it would ‘not be appropriate’ to comment on who may have been responsible.
Soca has recently closed 36 websites believed to be selling stolen credit card information. Last month, Soca was part of a joint effort with the US Federal Bureau of Investigation to shut websites associated with selling stolen financial information.
The agency said 2.5 million items of compromised data was recovered, preventing an estimated potential fraud of £500m.
The website has been targeted in the past by members of ‘hacktivist’ group LulzSec. In June 2011, they forced the site offline using similar tactics.
Graham Cluley, of anti computer virus firm Sophos based in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, described the attack as a ‘thump on the nose rather than a mortal blow.’
He said: ‘It is not impossible to stop this sort of thing from happening, but quite costly, and SOCA may want to look at what they have in place to prevent future occurrences.
‘Government websites expect to be atacked from time to time and it is just an inconvenience. Large numbers of people visit the website for legitimate reasons and at the moment are unable to do so.
‘The attack could be linked to LulzSec or other hacking groups. It is likely to be connected to SOCA’s work.
‘Yesterday, a number of British and Irish suspects were arrested in the US over a hacking inquiry so that could also be significant.’
He added: ‘This is the second time in less than a year that SOCA’s website has found itself the target of malicious attackers, having previously suffered from a DDoS attack at the hands of the notorious LulzSec gang in June 2011.
‘Some may suspect a LulzSec sympathiser is behind the attack, as yesterday US prosectors made public an indictment against four British and Irish men, suspected of being involved in an internet attack on the Stratfor security analysis firm last year.’
Until yesterday, only Jeremy Hammond, a 27-year-old from Chicago, had been charged in relation to the Stratfor security breach.
But now Donncha O’Cearrbhail (aka ‘palladium’), Darren Martyn (aka ‘pwnsauce’), Jake Davis (aka ‘topiary’) and Ryan Ackroyd (aka ‘kayla’ or ‘lolspoon’) – who were all arrested by authorities last year – have also been named.
Added Mr Cluley: ‘Another consideration for who might be responsible for the DDoS is that SOCA recently shut down 36 websites selling stolen credit card details.
‘Whoever is to blame for this latest assault, it is worth remembering denial-of-service attacks are against the law.’