Internet users across the globe noticed a substantial slow down yesterday as two groups – one a spammer and one a spam-fighter – battled for Internet turf. Spamhaus, the cyber-hero in our story, is an international non-profit group dedicated to tracking spam sources and protecting Internet networks. They drew the attacks of Cyberbunker when they blacklisted them as spammers.

Cyberbunker is an online hosting site that accepts any type of webpage with the exception of child pornography and terrorism. They started their retaliation in mid-March, but kicked up their attempts yesterday by launching a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS). This began one of the largest cyber-battles in the history of the Internet.

A DDoS attack occurs when thousands of computers attack a single source, to the point where the victim can’t tell the difference between spammers and natural user traffic. As Aaron Weiss of eSecurity Planet explained:

Distributed Denial of Service attacks are executed by a so-called botnet – a collection of computers around the world infected with an attacker’s malware. Malware infections can install silent software on a victim machine which places it under the control of a remote attacker.

Patrick Gilmore of Akamai Technologies told the New York Times that botnets can be larger than the Internet streams of entire countries. The attacks reached record highs of 300 Gbps (gigabits per second), a huge leap from the average attack levels of 50 Gbps. It was the incredible number attacks that slowed Internet speeds worldwide, from movie streaming in Europe to email services in India.

Every great villain has a motive; in this case, it’s revenge. But Cyberbunker with its group of Eastern European and Russian gangs have a deeper vendetta than one organization blocking their servers. They believe Spamhaus is in the business of censorship. Sven Olaf Kamphuis, spokesperson for Cyberbunker, told the Times:

Nobody ever deputized Spamhaus to determine what goes and does not go on the Internet. They worked themselves into that position by pretending to fight spam.

The battle had ended by early Thursday morning and Spamhaus was still standing. The non-profit cobbled together a blog post to meet the sheer number of media requests and questions that were flooding their computers. In the post, they don’t call Cyberbunker by name but make it clear that this set the record for was attacks directed at Spamhaus. They also note that most Internet servers are constantly under attack and the Spamhaus servers have now reached a manageable level.

Despite the fact that most users didn’t notice any major problems yesterday, people are shocked that a singular group could have such an adverse effect globally on the Internet. Experts are trying their hardest to measure the damages and coming back with mixed results. Some describe the attacks as a “nuclear bomb” getting dropped on the Internet while others feel the reports of Internet death were greatly exaggerated. In the end, Spamhaus was the victor, Cyberbunker is still blacklisted and the Internet lives to face another day.