How a Bookmaker and a Whiz Kid Took On a DDOS-based Online Extortion Attack
Facing an online extortion threat, bookmaker Mickey Richardson bet his Web-based business on a networking whiz from Sacramento who first beat back the bad guys, then helped the cops nab them.
May 01, 2005 — CSO —
Saturday, Nov. 22, 2003, 7:57 a.m. Origins of an Onslaught
The e-mail that started the online extortion demands began, "Your site is under attack," and it gave Mickey Richardson two choices: "You can send us $40K by Western Union [and] your site will be protected not just this weekend but for the next 12 months," or, "If you choose not to pay...you will be under attack each weekend for the next 20 weeks, or until you close your doors."
Richardson runs BetCris.com, an online wagering site, one of hundreds of sites ensconced in Costa Rica that take bets from Americans (and others around the world) without concern for U.S. bookmaking laws. Richardson received the e-mail just as he and his competitors were preparing for the year's busiest wagering season. With pro and college football, pro and college basketball and other sports in full swing, and with Thanksgiving and Christmas about to create plenty of free time, BetCris and the others stood to rake in millions over the holidays. Richardson was even planning an advertising blitz for the season to drive new traffic to his site.
If BetCris went down, he knew his customers would find another online bookmaker, "which will cost you tens of thousands of dollars in lost wagers and customers," the extortionists reminded him.
Despite all that, the e-mail didn't have the fearsome effect on Richardson that the extortionists hoped it would. He just asked his network administrator, Glenn Lebumfacil, if they should be concerned. "I said—God, in hindsight, what an idiot—I said, 'We should be safe. I think our network is nice and tight,'" recalls Lebumfacil.
As a precaution, Richardson alerted his ISP, but essentially, he says, "We kind of fluffed it off." The veteran bookmaker didn't panic because, in fact, he had dealt with online extortionists before. Two years earlier, hackers crashed BetCris.com with a denial-of-service (DoS) attack, and then demanded by e-mail a $500 protection fee in eGold (an online form of trading bullion). Richardson paid without a second thought. Compared to downtime, $500 was trivial.
That first attack got his attention, though. Richardson consulted another industry veteran who confessed to having a similar problem, and who told Richardson to call a consultant named Barrett Lyon in Sacramento, Calif. Lyon didn't come to BetCris's offices—he had no interest in baby-sitting infrastructure in Costa Rica—but he did recommend some off-the-shelf products that had recently been developed specifically to fight DoS attacks. Lyon thought (actually he hoped) that he'd never hear from them again. Richardson and Lebumfacil were confident they had protected themselves.