Hackers have started exploiting an extremely severe vulnerability in a widely used software utility, touching off concerns that the in-the-wild attacks could affect the stability of the Internet.

The attacks are exploiting a denial-of-service bug in all versions of Bind, the most widely used software for translating human-friendly domain names into IP addresses used by servers. As Ars reported last week, the flaw can be exploited with a single command to crash authoritative and recursive domain name system servers and in theory could allow a single person to take down large swaths of the Internet. There’s no practical workaround, although some website firewalls can block many exploits. The only way administrators can ensure they don’t fall victim is to install a recently published patch.

“Because of its severity we’ve been actively monitoring to see when the exploit would be live,” Daniel Cid, founder and CTO of security firm Sucuri, wrote in a blog post published Sunday. “We can confirm that the attacks have begun. DNS is one of the most critical parts of the Internet infrastructure, so having your DNS go down, it also means your e-mail, HTTP, and all other services will be unavailable.”

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Exploits start against flaw that could hamstring huge swaths of Internet