Why IP stressers are controversial – Exploring the debate

IP stressers, also known as booters or DDoS-for-hire services, have become a major cybersecurity threat in recent years. These tools allow even unskilled users to overwhelm targets with floods of junk traffic for just a few dollars. But, IP stressers occupy a legal gray area and have been steeped in controversy over their potentially destructive capabilities accessible to anyone. Those who argue against IP stressers point to the dangerous disruptions they enable:

  • Promote criminal activities – The vast majority of stresser uses today are malicious, including extortion, personal attacks, and nation-state disruption. Their chief purpose is inflicting harm.
  • Too accessible to unsophisticated actors – Previously, launching potent DDoS attacks required technical expertise. But, stressers allow anyone to point and click to take down targets.
  • Incentivize DDoS attacks – The cheap pricing and ease of use encourage stresser customers who would never otherwise consider launching DDoS attacks.
  • Limited recourse for victims – It’s extremely difficult for victims to pursue civil or criminal actions against stresser customers due to anonymity protections and jurisdictional issues.
  • Used for large-scale disruption – Today’s stressers leverage botnets generating attacks exceeding 500Gbps, enough to take down major infrastructure.
  • Difficult to prosecute – Most booters hide behind infrastructure in countries tolerant of their activities, avoiding culpability.

Case for IP stressers

On the other side, advocates of continuing to allow IP stressers make counterarguments:

  • Have non-malicious uses – Some claim stressers help developers test DDoS resiliency and performance under load.
  • Are a neutral tool – The damage comes from those wielding stressers, not the tools themselves. They compare it to blaming car manufacturers for traffic accidents.
  • Help identify vulnerabilities – Successful stresser attacks force companies to identify and close security gaps that could otherwise be exploited secretly in the future.
  • Right to free speech – Banning them could set a dangerous precedent that stifles innovation and allows censorship of inconvenient online activities.
  • Impossible to eliminate – Much like file-sharing services, more stressers will pop up continually to replace any shutdown, so prohibition is fruitless.
  • Drives security improvements – The threat of stressers motivates organizations to harden infrastructure and purchase protective services, advancing security.

Under this view, IP stressers are disruptive tools, but not innately bad. Their uses and consequences lie fully in the hands of customers.

Ongoing government interventions

Law enforcement agencies have ramped up prosecutions of major stresser operations and their customers:

  • FBI operation timeout – An international takedown targeting 15 booter services and nearly 100 paying customers. Resulted in numerous arrests in 2018-2019.
  • Increased convictions – Both federal agencies like the FBI and local law enforcement have prioritized charging stresser operators and malicious users under computer intrusion laws domestically and abroad.
  • Website seizures – Sites of large booter operations have been seized and disabled by law enforcement agencies including the FBI, Europol, and national cybercrime units.
  • Payment processor bans – PayPal, Stripe, Visa, and MasterCard instituted explicit bans on payments to booter services and stricter merchant monitoring. This disrupts their revenue sources significantly.

What Is an IP Booter? While prosecutions are still comparably rare given the volume of stresser activity, the coordinated crackdown signals the intent of lawmakers globally to rein in these services. However, the profitability of booters still operating attracts new entities continually. Legal precedents and lawmaker actions in the years ahead will determine if the tide permanently turns against IP stressers operating openly online.