Russia-Linked Hackers Claim Credit for OpenAI Outage

By | November 13, 2023

A hacking group linked to Russia claimed responsibility for attacks that periodically forced OpenAI’s ChatGPT offline last week, saying it targeted the company due to its support of Israel.

The group, which calls itself Anonymous Sudan, said in a post on the Telegram messaging app on Nov. 8 it targeted the Microsoft Corp.-backed startup because it has explored investment opportunities in Israel.

OpenAI reported “periodic outages” of its flagship chatbot on Nov. 8 that it said were due to an “abnormal traffic pattern” suggesting a distributed denial of service attack, which can flood a server with traffic to force it offline. About 100 million people a week use ChatGPT, the artificial intelligence platform that triggered a global frenzy for the new technology when it was introduced a year ago.

The company did not identify the source of the alleged attack and Bloomberg News could not independently verify Anonymous Sudan’s claims. A spokesperson for OpenAI did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

OpenAI said it has fixed the issue, which caused unusually high error rates across its software and AI platform. The company’s products are used by more than 90% of Fortune 500 companies to build tools in sectors ranging from medicine to education.

Anonymous Sudan has carried out a campaign of high-profile DDoS attacks this year. In June, it downed some Microsoft services, including Outlook, Teams and OneDrive. It has also targeted the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Investment Bank, as well as media organizations, airlines and power companies.

Even before the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war in October, Anonymous Sudan claimed to be behind a spree of attacks targeting Israeli organizations. It has been linked to DDoS strikes on Israeli news organizations, government and military agencies, universities, banks, telecom providers, technology companies and rocket warning systems that issue alerts.

The group presents itself as a “hacktivist” gang that is waging attacks out of Africa on behalf of oppressed Muslims worldwide. However, leading cybersecurity researchers believe it is linked to Russia and say its targets consistently match the Kremlin’s geopolitical priorities.

Tensions between Israel and Russia have been growing since the Hamas attack on Oct. 7. Israel lodged an official complaint to Russia after a Hamas delegation visited Moscow last month. Hamas is designated a terrorist outfit by the US and the European Union.

Anonymous Sudan “often overlooks actions taken against Sudan or Islam in non-Western countries,” according to a report published on Monday by cybersecurity analysts at the US technology firm Netscout. “Their operations largely favor alignment with pro-Kremlin goals.”

In a interview with Bloomberg News in June, a spokesperson for the hackers who declined to be identified denied working for Russia. “I attack everything that is hostile to Islam and all countries that are hostile to Islam are hostile to Russia,” the person said at the time.

The Kremlin regularly denies any role in hacking operations.

Anonymous Sudan’s attacks have often been effective because they target what’s called “layer 7,” the application layer of victims’ internet infrastructure, according to cybersecurity experts. When executed successfully, such attacks can prevent web servers from identifying real and fake requests, ultimately overloading them and forcing them offline.

Photo: Photographer: Gabby Jones/Bloomberg

Topics Cyber Russia

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