DDoS Attacks Plague WPN Once Again

Amongst the litany of problems one would run into when stranded on a desert island, one is the difficulty of keeping track of the days. One hot, desperate day blends into another hot, desperate day. But, if by chance you were stranded with a laptop computer and an internet connection (yes, let’s pretend this is possible and that you would still remain stranded) and needed to figure out what day it was, all you would have to do is crank up one of the skins of the Winning Poker Network (WPN) and hop into its biggest multi-table tournament. Yes, let’s assume that the Windows calendar is incorrect and you have no ability to just Google the date, go to any other website that would have the date, and that nothing in the poker room lobby would clue you in.

Just work with me here. I’m increasing my word count. If you experience constant table freezes, time-outs, and disconnections, you can feel confident that you are currently playing on the Winning Poker Network on a Sunday because that is the day of the week the network experiences Distributed Denial of Service (DDos) attacks, just like it did this past Sunday.

It would likely came as a surprise to no one, the Winning Poker Network’s Million Dollar Sunday event was interrupted by a DDoS attack. Fortunately, despite a few unscheduled breaks, the tournament was able to proceed to the end.

Winning Poker NetworkThis is nothing new for WPN. In December, it attempted to hold an extremely ambitious million dollar guaranteed tournament, the largest guarantee for any U.S.-facing network or poker room since Black Friday. WPN isn’t tiny – it currently ranks 13th in terms of cash game traffic on PokerScout – but it is not the kind of network that should expect to easily attract enough players to cover the million dollar guarantee. Unfortunately, the network was the target of a DDoS attack during that tournament, causing the proceedings to grind to a halt. WPN, which includes such poker rooms as America’s Cardroom, Poker Host, and True Poker, had actually been hit by the attacks during the week leading up to the event, but because the attacks had stopped, network officials incorrectly assumed they were in the clear.

Sure enough, as soon as the tournament started, the attacks resumed. Tables froze, players were disconnected, and things just lagged all over the place. WPN paused the tournament more than once to attempt to get things under control, but realizing it wasn’t going to happen, WPN CEO Phil Nagy decided the proper course of action was to cancel the tournament and refund everyone’s money. A forlorn Nagy took to Twitch to apologize, saying, “Well, I don’t even know where to start. This has probably – and like you care – been one of the hardest…the hardest week of my life.”

The tournament was rescheduled for February and was a successful endeavor.

Recently, WPN announced that it would host more million dollar guaranteed tournaments, with one this past Sunday and one each Sunday of October. Just like in December, the DDoS attacks began at the outset of the tournament. Fortunately, while WPN’s technical staff couldn’t block them before they started, they were able to rein them in. The tournament was paused a few times early on so the attacks could be handled, but eventually everything got taken care of and the tournament was able to run through to the finish.

Once again, Phil Nagy went on Twitch to address players:

In the beginning of the tournament we had to pause the tournament for five minutes and then we resumed the tournament…and we’re getting some extortion messages where they want us to send Bitcoins to stop the attacks. Well, um…no. Not gonna do that. I just can’t imagine paying the terrorists to stop. That’s just the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.

“What I really want to say is eff these guys SO much and there’s no possible way that I’m paying you or I’m giving in,” he added.

He asked players to remain patient and to not leave, that the network would get things straightened out. He knew, though, that the DDoS attacks were going to cause people to stay away, so he did lament the fact that he and his company were going to have to shell out a healthy chunk of change in overlay. He said, while painful to his checkbook, he would much rather do that than cancel the tournament or pay the attackers.

“I literally had some people in my office that said this tournament is going to overlay so much that you have a great opportunity to bow out of it and blame it on DDoS,” Nagy said. “And I said, ‘Well what’s the point of having a guarantee when it’s not really a guarantee?’”

The tournament drew 1,549 players, each paying a $500 buy-in. That resulted in a prize pool of $775,500, meaning the tournament had a gigantic overlay of $224,500. Great for the players, not so good for WPN.

In a DDoS attack, the culprit compromises multiple computers, causing them to flood the target machine with endless communications requests. Because the requests are so numerous and come so quickly, the target has trouble differentiating them from legitimate requests and therefore cannot properly block them. Instead, legit requests often get blocked and the target machine slows down or freezes up. Because of the “distributed” nature of the attacks, they are even harder to block, as they come from multiple machines and the target computer cannot easily pinpoint the source.

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