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DDoS attacks more complex, targeted and angry, Arbor Networks finds

Bigger, faster, worse

DDoS attacks appear to be morphing from volumetric battering rams into sophisticated, highly targeted and extremely angry political point-scoring systems, a detailed survey of large enterprises and data centre managers has found.

Ask any enterprise-level manager for their experience of DDoS attacks and the results are likely to be interesting but the opinions of Arbor Networks' 193 customers used to compile its 8th Worldwide Infrastructure Security Report count more than most.

The respondents were all drawn from the very people who are now in the crosshairs of globalised, state-of-the-art DDoS; very large data centre operators, the ISPs that provide the pipes to those centres, and the big multinationals that consume such services.

Peer into the 100 pages of findings and it is not a surprise that, as with last year, the top motivation for DDoS is still seen as political and ideological (33 percent), ahead of online gaming (31 percent), and nihilism/vandalism (27 percent).

More than half said they were worried about the potential for DDoS attacks to turn into Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs) - code for state-sponsored industrial espionage against another country's economic base - with 22 percent having experienced such attacks on corporate networks.

And while large DDoS attacks are still an issue, it is clear that even as average attack size has grown to above 1Gbps volume alone is no longer the most feared type of assault.

Attackers are now able to throw multi-vector DDoS at networks in which a mixture of volume, state-exhaustion and application-layer assaults are mixed to form a cocktail that can be hugely challenging to cope with.

In 2011, these were reported by 27 percent of respondents, a figure that grew in 2012 to 46 percent.

A good example of this type of attack would be the 'Operation Ababil' attacks against the US financial sector that started last September, Arbor said. These also looked suspiciously like APTs in that they were able to muster a wide array of attack designs and tools, adjusting them in real time for maximum effect.

Disturbingly, "these attacks were very much premeditated, focused, advertised before the fact, and executed in a coordinated and organized manner," Arbor said.

According to Arbor, such attacks show up the limitations of perimeter firewalls, which suffer from having been designed in an age before DDoS existed in its contemporary form. A third said firewalls had 'failed' during attacks, a theme that Arbor will be happy to remind the world of given that its business involves selling specialised replacements for this type of kit.

One conclusion is that the growth in targeted attacks on specific sectors such as finance should give companies reason to pay attention to which customers they share data centre space with. Pick a data centre popular with a target sector that is attacked and everyone using that space will be affected.

Another is that many DDoS victims see little or no reason to report attacks because the chances of tracing the culprit are so remote.

Fifty-three percent said they had not referred any DDoS attacks to law enforcement, although this is improving year-on-year. Another common reason cited was a lack of time to compile incident reports, which suggests that bureaucracy could be getting in the way of accurate intelligence.

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