BBC websites still suffering after DDoS attack

Since suffering a crippling DDoS attack on New Year's Eve, some BBC websites are still experiencing significant performance issues.

Around 07:00 UTC on 31 December 2015, the main BBC website at www.bbc.co.uk was knocked offline after being subjected to a distributed denial of service attack. For the following few hours, requests to the BBC website either eventually timed out, or were responded to with its 500 Internal Error test card page. A group called New World Hacking later claimed responsibility for the attack, which it carried out as a test of its capabilities.

Requests that did not time out were eventually met with the BBC test card error page.

Requests that did not time out were eventually met with the BBC test card error page.

The British Broadcasting Corporation is the public service broadcaster of the United Kingdom, and the outage had a significant impact on its user base: The BBC's news, sport, weather and iPlayer TV and radio catchup services are all delivered via www.bbc.co.uk.

Performance chart for www.bbc.co.uk, showing the primary outage period.

Performance chart for www.bbc.co.uk, showing the primary outage period.

At the time of the attack, www.bbc.co.uk was served from a netblock owned by the BBC. It seems that service was restored by migrating the site onto the Akamai content delivery network, after which there were no apparent outages.

OS Server Last seen IP address Netblock Owner
Linux nginx 3-Jan-2016 88.221.48.170 Akamai
Linux nginx 2-Jan-2016 95.101.129.88 Akamai Technologies
Linux nginx 31-Dec-2015 95.101.129.106 Akamai Technologies
Linux nginx 30-Dec-2015 212.58.244.70 BBC
Linux nginx 29-Dec-2015 212.58.246.54 BBC
Linux nginx 28-Dec-2015 212.58.244.71 BBC

Moving www.bbc.co.uk onto the Akamai CDN also resulted in some significant performance benefits, particularly from locations outside of the UK. For example, prior to the attack, most requests from Netcraft's New York performance collector took around 0.4-0.6 seconds to receive a response, whereas after the site had migrated to Akamai, all requests were served in well under 0.1 seconds. These performance benefits are typical when using a globally distributed CDN, as cached content can be delivered from an edge server within the client's own country, rather than from a remote server that can only be reached via transatlantic cables.

Performance chart for www.bbc.co.uk from  New York, highlighting the improved response times and successful attack  mitigation after switching to Akamai.

Performance chart for www.bbc.co.uk from New York, highlighting the improved response times and successful attack mitigation after switching to Akamai.

However, not all of the BBC's websites have migrated to Akamai, and some of these are still exhibiting connectivity issues in the aftermath of the attack. For example, search.bbc.co.uk and news.bbc.co.uk are still hosted directly at the BBC, and these are still experiencing problems today.

The BBC's News service is currently found at www.bbc.co.uk/news, but up until a few years ago it used to be served from its own dedicated hostname, news.bbc.co.uk. This legacy hostname is still used by some webpages today, but mostly redirects visitors to the new site at www.bbc.co.uk/news. This conveniently collates all of the BBC's main online services under the same hostname, but at the expense of introducing a single point of failure. If each service were still to be found under a different hostname and on different servers, it might have offered further resilience to the initial attack.

The performance chart for news.bbc.co.uk shows massive outages long after the DDoS attack on New Year's Eve.

The performance chart for news.bbc.co.uk shows massive outages long after the DDoS attack on New Year's Eve.

As shown above, news.bbc.co.uk was also affected by the DDoS attack which took down the main BBC website, but eventually came back online later that day without having to relocate the website. However, the following morning (New Year's Day), it started to experience significant connectivity problems.

Most requests to news.bbc.co.uk are still failing.

Most requests to news.bbc.co.uk are still failing. Some browsers, such as Chrome, may automatically retry the request.

It is unclear whether this indicates a separate ongoing attack, or an attempt at mitigating such attacks, but nonetheless, it is likely to affect lots of users: Many old news articles are still served directly from news.bbc.co.uk, and some users habitually reach the news website by typing news.bbc.co.uk into their browsers. Some regularly updated pages also continue to be served from news.bbc.co.uk, such as horse racing results.