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DDoS-for-Hire Sites Bounce Back
July 26, 2019

Despite a recent crackdown by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), there has been a more than 400% increase in the volume of attacks being launched via DDoS-for-hire sites in the last quarter. That’s according to a new report from Nexusguard, a provider of a cloud service for combatting distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks.

The “Nexusguard Q1 2019 Threat Report” also notes that DDoS attacks smaller than 1Gbps are becoming more automated and targeted at specific organizations. For example, 17% of all the DDoS attacks launched in Brazil in the last quarter were aimed at one specific banking institution, the report finds.

Donny Chong, product director for enterprise cybersecurity at Nexusguard, said the DDoS-for-hire sites that were taken down last year are now being replaced. The number of DDoS-for-hire websites being tracked by NexusGuard has doubled year over year.

The Nexusguard report also finds this latest generation of DDoS-for-hire cybercriminals is more adept at compromising mobile computing devices to launch their attacks. Botnets employed by these sites have been able to launch attacks lasting more than 40,000 minutes at a time, or more than 27 days, the report finds. In addition to leveraging mobile computing devices, DDoS-for-hire sites are starting to leverage billions of poorly protected internet-of-things (IoT) devices, he said.

Chong noted the latest iteration of DDoS-for-hire websites appears to be trying to fly under the radar of law enforcement. Rather than launching massive attacks, cybercriminals are employing the threat of a DDoS attack to extort payments from organizations both large and small.

At a time when organizations depend heavily on websites to generate revenue, DDoS attacks can have a much bigger financial impact on organizations.

In general, DNS attacks come in a variety of forms, including:

  • Domain hijacking, which results in DNS servers and domain registrar redirecting traffic away from the original servers to new destinations.
  • DNS hijacking (also known as DNS redirection), which involves malware being employed to, for example, alter the TCP/IP configurations so they can point to another DNS server, which will then redirect traffic to a fake website.
  • DNS flooding, which is a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack that seeks to overload a DNS server to the point where it can no longer process requests.
  • Distributed reflection denial-of-service (DRDoS) attacks, which spoof the source address of the DNS service and results in machines replying back and forth until the DNS server becomes flooded.
  • DNS tunneling, which makes use of encoded data from other applications to compromise DNS responses and queries.
  • Random subdomain attacks, which involve sending a lot of DNS queries via compromised systems against a valid and existing domain name.

While there may be no way to terminate every DDoS attack, the good news is organizations at the very least are getting more adept at mitigating them.


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Mirai-Like Botnet Wages Massive Application-Layer DDoS Attack
July 25, 2019

IoT botnet-made up mainly of routers-hit a service provider with nearly 300,000 requests-per-second in a 13-day deluge of data.

A collection of more than 400,000 connected devices – mainly home routers – for 13 days leveled a powerful application-layer attack on a online entertainment-service provider.

The attack used packets designed to appear as valid requests to the targeted application with the aim of chewing up bandwidth and server resources and reached a peak rate of 292,000 requests per second, according to a report released on July 24 by security firm Imperva, which blocked the attack.

The distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, also known as an application-layer or layer-7 attack, came from devices compromised by the attackers and likely aimed to take down the company’s service, says Vitaly Simonovich, a security researcher for Imperva.

“This is not the first time this customer got attacked,” he says. “In the past, we witnessed this customer get attacked via network-layer DDoS attacks and also attackers have tried to steal their service, or use it without paying them.”

Distributed denial-of-service attacks are now considered the cost of doing business online, and companies need to plan for the attacks. In a survey released on July 24, data-center services firm US Signal found that 83% of organizations had suffered a DDoS attack in the past two years, and the average downtime caused by such an attack was 12 hours. The survey also found that 81% of organizations had their web application targeted in a cyberattack.

“The number of respondents that have experienced DDoS and application attacks is jarring, demonstrating that there is always room for improvement in keeping up with modern cyberthreats,” Trevor Bidle, vice president of information security and compliance officer at US Signal, said in a statement.

Yet, network packet floods continue to set new records in terms of volume and sustained traffic.

The attack on Imperva’s client is not the largest, but represents one of the most significant application-layer attacks. Volumetric attacks, which try to overload a target’s network bandwidth and infrastructure with a massive deluge of data, have exceeded 500 million packets per second, according to Imperva. For comparison, the DDoS attack against GitHub in 2018 exceeded 1.35 terabits per second, or about 130 million packets per second, the company said.

In 2016, the original Mirai malware, along with several variants, were used to conduct massive DDoS attacks against a variety of targets. More than one attack peaked at more than 600 gigabits per second and the attack against infrastructure provider Dyn in October 2016 exceeded 1 terabit per second.

Volumetric and application attacks are different and target different parts of a company’s online infrastructure. Web applications can typically handle tens or hundreds of gigabits of legitimate traffic, but typical Web servers handle perhaps 25,000 requests per second, says Imperva’s Simonovich.

“Today, customers that use cloud services can scale up in no time,” he says. “This means that when the number of requests is growing, the cloud platform can spawn more servers to handle the load. It also means that the customer will pay more to the cloud provider.”

Imperva tracked much of the traffic in the latest attack back to compromised home routers in Brazil. While the company does not believe that the attacks came from the Mirai botnet because the code to the malicious software had been released some time ago, underground developers have modified Mirai to incorporate a variety of attacks.

Because of the large number of Internet-of-things devices — tens of billions of network-connected devices by most accounts — and the lack of security concerns of most manufacturers and consumers, the population of vulnerable devices will only likely continue to grow, Imperva said.

“Botnets of IoT devices will only get larger,” the company said. “We live in a connected world, so the number of IoT devices continues to grow fast and vendors still do not consider security a top priority.”


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How The New York Times Handled Unprecedented Election-Night Traffic Spike
April 19, 2017

When he woke up the morning of October 21, 2016, Nick Rockwell did the same thing he had done first thing every morning since The New York Times hired him as CTO: he opened The Times’ app on his phone. Nothing loaded.

The app was down along with BBC, CNN, Fox News, The Guardian, and a long list of other web services, taken out by the largest DDoS attack in history of the internet. An army of infected IP cameras, DVRs, modems, and other connected devices – the Mirai botnet – had flooded servers of the DNS registrar Dyn in 17 data centers, halting a huge number of internet services that depended on it for letting their users’ computers know how to find them online.

The outage had started only about five minutes before Rockwell saw the blank screen on his phone. His team kicked off a standard process that was in place for such outages, failing over to the Times’ internal DNS hosted in two of its four data centers in the US. The mobile app and the main site were back online about 45 minutes after they had gone down.

While going through the fairly routine recovery process, however, something was really worrying Rockwell. The thing was, he didn’t know whether the attack was directed at many targets or at the Times specifically. If it was the latter, the effect could be catastrophic; its internal DNS wouldn’t hold against a major DDoS for more than five seconds. “It would’ve been incredibly easy to DDoS our infrastructure,” he said in a phone interview with Data Center Knowledge.

His team had been a few months deep into fixing the vulnerability, but they weren’t finished. “We were OK [in the end], but we were vulnerable during that time.” The process to fix it started as they were preparing for the 2016 presidential election. Election night is the biggest event for every major news outlet, and Rockwell was determined to avoid the 2012 election night fiasco, when the site went down, unable to handle the spike in traffic.

One of the steps the team decided to do in preparation for November 2016 was to fully integrate a CDN (Content Delivery Network). CDN services, such as Akamai, CloudFlare, or CDN services by cloud providers Amazon, Microsoft, and Google, store their clients’ most popular content in data centers close to where many of their end users are located – so-called edge data centers — from where “last-mile” internet service providers deliver that content to its final destinations. A CDN essentially becomes a highly distributed extension of your network, adding to it compute, storage, and bandwidth capacity in many metros around the world.

That a CDN had not been integrated into the organization’s infrastructure came as a big surprise to Rockwell, who joined in 2015, after 10 months as CTO at another big publisher, Condé Nast. While at Condé Nast, he switched the publisher from a major CDN provider to a lesser-known CDN by a company called Fastly. He has since become an unapologetically big fan of the San Francisco-based startup, which now also delivers content to The New York Times users around the world.

Being highly distributed by design puts CDNs in good position to help their customers handle big traffic spikes, be it legitimate traffic generated by a big news event or a malicious DDoS attack. (Rockwell said he did wonder, as the Dyn attack was unfolding, whether it was a rehearsal for election night.)

Fastly ensured that on the night Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton, the Times rolled without incident through a traffic spike of unprecedented size for the publisher: an 8,371 percent increase in the number of people visiting the site simultaneously, according to the CTO. The CDN has also mostly absorbed the much higher levels of day-to-day traffic The Times has seen since the election as it covers the Trump administration.

The six-year-old startup, which this year crossed the $100 million annualized revenue run-rate threshold, designed its platform to give users a detailed picture of the way their traffic flows through its CDN and lots of control. Artur Bergman, Fastly’s founder and CEO, said the platform enables a user to treat the edge of their network the same way they treat their own data centers or cloud infrastructure.

In your own data center you have full control of your tools for improving your network’s security and performance (things like firewalls and load balancers), Bergman explained in an interview with Data Center Knowledge. While you maintain that level of control in the public cloud, you don’t necessarily have it at the edge, he said. Traditionally, CDNs have offered customers little visibility into their infrastructure, so even differentiating between a legitimate traffic spike and a DDoS attack has been hard to do quickly. Fastly gives users log access in real-time so they can see exactly what is happening to their edge nodes and make critical decisions quickly.

The startup today unveiled an edge cloud platform, designed to enable developers to deploy code in edge data centers instantly, without having to worry about scaling their edge infrastructure as their applications grow. It also announced a collaboration with Google Cloud Platform, pairing its platform with the giant’s enterprise cloud infrastructure services around the world.

GCP is one of two cloud providers The New York Times is using. The other one is Amazon Web Services. Today, the publisher’s infrastructure consists of three leased data centers in Newark, Boston, and Seattle, and one facility it owns and operates on its own, located in the New York Times building in Times Square, Rockwell said. The company uses a virtual private cloud by AWS and some of its public cloud services in addition to running some applications in the Google Cloud.

This setup is not staying for long, however. Rockwell’s team is working to shut down the three leased data centers, moving most of its workloads onto GCP and AWS, with Fastly managing content delivery at the edge. Google’s cloud is also going to play a much bigger role than it does today. The plan is to run apps that depend on Oracle databases in AWS, while everything else, save for a few exceptions (primarily packaged enterprise IT apps), will run in app containers on GCP, orchestrated by Kubernetes.

As he works to sort out what he in a conference presentation referred to as the “jumbled mess” that is The Times’ current infrastructure, Rockwell no longer worries about DDoS attacks. Luckily for his team, there was no major DDoS attack on The Times between the day he came on board and the day Fastly started delivering the publisher’s content to its readers. Whether there was one after Fastly was implemented is irrelevant to him. “It’s no longer something I have to think about.”


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Criminals Leverage CLDAP Protocol to Conduct Amplified DDoS Attacks
April 18, 2017

Distributed denial-of-service attacks have quickly become one of the favorite tools among cyber criminals around the world. It appears some groups are taking things to the next level by leveraging the CLDAP protocol. As a result, they can amplify their DDoS attacks by as much as 700%. This is a very troublesome development, to say the least.


For those people who are unaware of what the CLDAP protocol is, allow us to briefly explain. It is a communication protocol used to connect, search, and modify internet directories. As one would expect, this particular protocol provides high performance at all times, as it can pump through data at an accelerated pace. So far, this protocol has only been used among network administrators to query data with relative ease.

Unfortunately, all good technologies are often used for nefarious purposes, and the CLDAP protocol is no different in this regard. A new report has surfaced, indicating criminals use CLDAP to amplify their direct denial-of-service attacks. It is believed they can make such attacks up to 70 times as powerful as before, which does not bode well for any part of the global internet infrastructure.

Researchers claim cybercriminals have been abusing the CLDAP protocol since late last year. That is quite a worrisome thought, although it is unclear which companies or services were targeted exactly. DDoS attacks leveraging the CLDAP protocol is not a positive development, as it only allows cybercriminals to shut down online services and platforms more easily. The last thing this world needs is more tools for online criminals to do bigger damage with less effort.

The amplification part of the CLDAP protocol is of particular concern to security researchers right now. By using the CLDAP protocol, DDoS attackers can artificially increase the number of times a data packet is enlarged. At its peak, the CLDAP protocol can increase data packet sizes by as much as 700%. To be more specific, One bit of data sent through a DDoS attack over the CLDAP protocol results in the target receiving 700 bytes of data.

So far, researchers have discovered over four dozen DDoS attacks leveraging the CLDAP protocol. That is quite a significant number, although it is only a hint of what the future will hold. Given the vulnerability of the Internet of Things devices, leveraging a hundred devices can now become as powerful as using 7,000 devices in a coordinated DDoS attack. It wouldn’t take much effort to shut down websites, online banking portals or even DNS service provides such as DynDNS.

To put this latter part into perspective, it takes 1 Gbps of sustained HTTP requests to shut down the average website. The biggest DDoS attack leveraging CLDAP put through 24 Gbps, and that was merely a test to see how well the protocol would hold up under sustained throughput. It is evident things will get a lot more troublesome from here on out. Anti-DDoS providers will need to find ways to filter CLDAP traffic rather than try to block it, as they will fall woefully short otherwise.


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IoT malware clashes in a botnet territory battle
April 18, 2017

The Hajime malware is competing with the Mirai malware to enslave some IoT devices

Mirai — a notorious malware that’s been enslaving IoT devices — has competition.

A rival piece of programming has been infecting some of the same easy-to-hack internet-of-things products, with a resiliency that surpasses Mirai, according to security researchers.

“You can almost call it Mirai on steroids,” said Marshal Webb, CTO at BackConnect, a provider of services to protect against distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks.

Security researchers have dubbed the rival IoT malware Hajime, and since it was discovered more than six months ago, it’s been spreading unabated and creating a botnet. Webb estimates it’s infected about 100,000 devices across the globe.

These botnets, or networks of enslaved computers, can be problematic. They’re often used to launch massive DDoS attacks that can take down websites or even disrupt the internet’s infrastructure.

That’s how the Mirai malware grabbed headlines last October. A DDoS attackfrom a Mirai-created botnet targeted DNS provider Dyn, which shut down and slowed internet traffic across the U.S.

Hajime was first discovered in the same month, when security researchers at Rapidity Networks were on the lookout for Mirai activity. What they found instead was something similar, but also more tenacious.

Like Mirai, Hajime also scans the internet for poorly secured IoT devices like cameras, DVRs, and routers. It compromises them by trying different username and password combinations and then transferring a malicious program.

However, Hajime doesn’t take orders from a command-and-control serverlike Mirai-infected devices do. Instead, it communicates over a peer-to-peernetwork built off protocols used in BitTorrent, resulting in a botnet that’s more decentralized — and harder to stop.

“Hajime is much, much more advanced than Mirai,” Webb said. “It has a more effective way to do command and control.”

Broadband providers have been chipping away at Mirai-created botnets, by blocking internet traffic to the command servers they communicate with. In the meantime, Hajime has continued to grow 24/7, enslaving some of the same devices. Its peer-to-peer nature means many of the infected devices can relay files or instructions to rest of the botnet, making it more resilient against any blocking efforts.

Screen Shot 2017-04-18 at 11.32.33

Hajime infection attempts (blue) vs Mirai infection attempts (red), according to a honeypot from security researcher Vesselin Bontchev.

Who’s behind Hajime? Security researchers aren’t sure. Strangely, they haven’t observed the Hajime botnet launching any DDoS attacks — which is good news.  A botnet of Hajime’s scope is probably capable of launching a massive one similar to what Mirai has done.

“There’s been no attribution. Nobody has claimed it,” said Pascal Geenens, a security researcher at security vendor Radware.

However, Hajime does continue to search the internet for vulnerable devices. Geenens’ own honeypot, a system that tracks botnet activity, has been inundated with infection attempts from Hajime-controlled devices, he said.

So the ultimate purpose of this botnet remains unknown. But one scenario is it’ll be used for cybercrime to launch DDoS attacks for extortion purposes or to engage in financial fraud.

“It’s a big threat forming,” Geenens said. “At some point, it can be used for something dangerous.”

It’s also possible Hajime might be a research project. Or in a possible twist, maybe it’s a vigilante security expert out to disrupt Mirai.

So far, Hajime appears to be more widespread than Mirai, said Vesselin Bontchev, a security expert at Bulgaria’s National Laboratory of Computer Virology.

However, there’s another key difference between the two malware. Hajime has been found infecting a smaller pool of IoT devices using ARM chip architecture.

That contrasts from Mirai, which saw its source code publicly released in late September. Since then, copycat hackers have taken the code and upgraded the malware. Vesselin has found Mirai strains infecting IoT products that use ARM, MIPS, x86, and six other platforms.

That means the clash between the two malware doesn’t completely overlap. Nevertheless, Hajime has stifled some of Mirai’s expansion.

“There’s definitely an ongoing territorial conflict,” said Allison Nixon, director of security research at Flashpoint.

To stop the malware, security researchers say it’s best to tackle the problem at its root, by patching the vulnerable IoT devices. But that will take time and, in other cases, it might not even be possible. Some IoT vendors have released security patches for their products to prevent malware infections, but many others have not, Nixon said.

That means Hajime and Mirai will probably stick around for a long time, unless those devices are retired.

“It will keep going,” Nixon said. “Even if there’s a power outage, [the malware] will just be back and re-infect the devices. It’s never going to stop.”