When a cyber attack shut down Twitter, SoundCloud, and Spotify in late October, media outlets struggled to clearly explain the series of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks that caused it. The New York Daily News, the Telegraph, and Wired all ran full-page explainers. The Guardian reported that the “cause of the outage was a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, in which a network of computers infected with special malware, known as a ‘botnet,’ are coordinated into bombarding a server with traffic until it collapses under the strain.”
Compare that to a top-ranking definition for DDoS attack on Sideways, a new website that clearly defines complex technology terms, created by Alphabet’s Jigsaw in collaboration with the Washington Post:
A DDoS attack is like someone anonymously placing a press ad including your phone number and offering an Aston Martin for sale at $200. You’re bombarded by calls, your life is misery, the callers aren’t aware you’re part of a trick, and your attacker is almost impossible to trace.
Much simpler, right? Other definitions found on Sideways are equally compelling: Two-factor authentication is compared to Cinderella’s slipper. Doxing is like a 500-piece jigsaw of you naked that had previously been scattered all over the internet, but is now being pieced back together by someone with a whole lot of time.
Jigsaw, which launched in 2016 from the think tank Google Ideas, is the company’s internal tech incubator that focuses on geopolitical challenges related to technology—from shielding people from digital attacks to fighting online extremism. With Sideways, it’s giving the public an accessible dictionary for terms that are often difficult to describe, even for experts.
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