James Royal-Lawson

Social denial of service attacks

In computing, a denial of service attack has been a practice deployed by groups and individuals to limit or bring down a web site for a number of decades.

In the age of social networking the denial of service attack has taken the leap from a pure networking phenomenon to a social weapon.

Through the use of social networks it’s possible for large numbers to communicate, plan and execute various ideas. At the same time, due to limitations in how social media presences are managed, individuals (or relatively small groups of people) can cause irreparable damage for brands.

The damage that can be caused isn’t just limited to online. We saw during the London riots last year how relatively easy it is for ideas to travel into the offline world.

Spread rapidly

With the viral way in which comments, ideas (and propaganda) can spread rapidly both within and between social networks – irrespective of whether they are true or false.

I’m beginning to lose track of the amount of times that today is the day that Doc went back to in Back To The Future or the latest celebrity death-hoax.

It’s also very simple to set up a hate group or write a negative blog post or submit a less than favourable review.

There’s plenty already been written about online reputation management and social media crisis management.

What I wanted to highlight was how easy it is to do execute more direct harm to a brand or a company that simply generating negative publicity or spreading poor and disappointing customer experiences.

Reporting content

Most social networks have the ability to report offensive or infringing material – and that’s a good thing.

The automated nature of many reporting processes means that nightmare situations can quickly occur. Such as when Sexual Futurist’s Facebook page was closed seemingly because of a oversight when using Facebook advertising that resulted in a significant number of complaints.

Another example is that of Bizarre magazine that a couple of years ago found multiple aspects of it’s web presence closed down after updates on various services were flagged as inappropriate.

This is an example of a social denial of service attack.

Poo attack!

More bizarre was how a Swedish career-coach and social media profile was recently subjected to a “poo attack” where a “friend” uploaded a number of pictures of faeces to her Facebook wall before subsequently blocking her – making it difficult to discover or do anything about the problem – effectively a SDoS attack.

Pushing a company to bankruptcy?

Earlier this month, one of the largest electronic retail chains here in Sweden, Expert, went bankrupt. A few days later the stores re-opened their doors for a stock liquidation sale.

Outside many of the stores there were huge queues of people who were hoping to grab a bargain.

Long queue of people outside an electronics store in Stockholm

What if people get a taste for this kind of liquidation sale? What if people encouraged each other (via social media) not to shop at a particular chain?

We’ve seen this kind of campaigning for “legitimate” causes to try and change a company’s behaviour. There are also numerous review sites where company’s are judged and rated – negatively and positively.

How long before the power of social forces a legitimate company into bankruptcy? It might sound a little far fetched, but with the tools and platforms available to everyday people, it’s more simply achievable than you may think.

It might even happen unintentionally. Also earlier this month we saw the example of how a 15 year old Dutch girl’s party invitation going viral spreading to 30000 people, 3000 of which turned up in the small village of Haren in the Netherlands causing the cancellation of the party and the drafting in of 900 riot police to secure the town.

Social denial of service attacks

So social denial of service attacks can be of varying size and style:

A relatively small number of individuals disrupting a person’s or organisation’s social media activities by abusing the tools put into place to help protect users from abuse.

A large number of individuals drowns an individual or organisations social media activities in unwanted content, or spreads content that is incorrect, misleading or undesirable.

The first mention I can find about SDoS attacks is by Joe Gregorio and how working group mailing list has it’s progress (deliberately) derailed with a constant stream of objections and wildly divergent proposals.

The phenomena was brought up again by Reuven Cohen in 2009 in relation to a spate of social hacktivism attacks.

Can it be prevented?

Many social denial of service attacks are impossible to predict or prevent; perhaps at best you can be aware of the possibility and perhaps be prepared – especially if you rely very heavily on a particular social platform.

How do you think you could prepare or prevent a social denial of service attack?

James Royal-Lawson+ is a digital strategist and web manager based in Stockholm Sweden.

Testing IKEA’s augmented reality catalogue

The new 2013 IKEA catalogue arrived. Normally my interest in it is limited to taking it from the postbox and putting it into a place where my wife will find it.

This year my interest was unusually high – I knew that IKEA had included augmented reality features.

In this film clip, you can see the IKEA catalogue equivalent of a “live unboxing”: Taking the catalogue, following the instructions, and trying to get the augmented reality features to work using my Android Tablet.

Link to the video on YouTube.

How did it go?

To summarise the “unboxing”. It was a little awkward finding the app using the Swedish name, but it installed ok and ran without problem.

Getting my tablet to activate the pages was a little more awkward. I was forced to put the catalogue on my chair in order to get far enough back.

What will I get?

One thing I felt was missing was some kind of expectation of what to find once I’d managed to get a page to scan. Some of the pages when scanned triggered overlays which “stuck” to a particular place on the page; or a 3D animation. Other pages gave a beep and then loaded a picture gallery. Different results required quite different control and positioning of the tablet.

close up of IKEA's scan icon

When using barcodes or other kinds of symbols that lead to additional content, give people some indication of what they should expect when they successfully access the content. In IKEA’s case, that could have been a second icon depicting a film, slideshow or 3d animation.

Further testing on the iPad

After I’d finished recording the video, I managed to retrieve the iPad back from my daughter and tested the app on iOS. It was easier to find in App store (then it was in Google Play) as I got a match on the Swedish name this tme (although it was disappointing that the existing IKEA app hadn’t been updated and I had to install a new one)

The iPad app was, like the Android version, fussy about distance. At times it was awkward to get a lock on the page. It was also fussy about light levels. Most pages in the catalogue I managed to activate or scan, but there were a couple that I had to give up on (or perhaps I just missed the augmentation?)

iPad showing a 3d animation with an IKEA catalogue in the background

The 3D animations were really quite odd. It was difficult to keep a “lock” on the page at the same time as rotating the iPad to see different angles.

I tried to move round to see the back of set of wardrobes that appeared at one point. I managed it, but it was like me, the iPad and the IKEA catalogue were playing a game of Twister.

Ease of use

I’m quite a fan of connecting the physical world to the digital, such as QR codes, but the major barrier to adoption to most of these attempts are the need for specific apps to be installed before you can interact with whatever lies behind the code or activate the AR features.

QR codes, and barcodes in general, would be much more successful and simple if mobile device manufacturers included scanners in their native camera applications. So far both Apple and Android lack this. Microsoft on the other hand have made it native it in their Windows 8 devices.

As it is, the augmented reality felt gimmicky and awkward, rather than inspiring and useful.

A more stable activation method, such as a QR code, would increase the success rate of interacting. This could be combined with practical features such as adding items to a wish list, showing availability, product variations and suggested combinations. It even opens the door to social content. IKEA could support their catalogue via the second screen in a similar way to what we are seeing with television.

It all boils down to usability. The ease of use. How usable is it. The more hoops you need to jump through the greater the chance of failing. Every time you write “just download our app”, you add a number of new loops to the challenge.

You can read about the thinking behind the 2013 catalogue in this article.

Have you tried scanning the IKEA catalogue? How did it go?

James Royal-Lawson+ is a digital strategist and web manager based in Stockholm Sweden.

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