Protecting your organisation against DDoS attacks

The recent Australian Federal Police arrest of a Sydney hacker claiming to be from the international hacking group Lulz Security (LulzSec) has brought Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks once again into the limelight.

Australian organisations, particularly Australian Government and government affiliated organisations, probably suffer more DDoS attacks than elsewhere in the world. These attacks, both domestic and foreign, are usually cases of ‘hacktivism’ from groups such as Anonymous.

The idea behind denial of services attacks is simply to shut down services.

We’ve observed that, due to faster internet speeds, denial of service attacks have moved from the ‘volumetric’ or ‘flooding’ technique to ‘low and slow’ attacks. Low and slow attacks see cyber criminals identify the page on a web server that is the largest or slowest – take, for example, a video featured on a company website – then send multiple and continuous requests for that page so a web server has to work harder and eventually fail.

I often liken the current techniques of DDoS attacks to a city’s traffic situation. If you wanted to bring an entire city’s traffic to a standstill, you don’t necessarily need to add an extra million cars to the road (volumetric or flooding), you simply need a car to break down on a major road, blocking a single lane.

The recently released <i>2013 Check Point Security Report</i>* found that botnets, the malicious software that invades and infects a computer to allow criminals to control it remotely and execute illegal activities such DDoS attacks, exist in 63 percent of organisations studied.

The research also showed that denial of services attacks were amongst the most popular attack vectors used by cyber criminals, according to the number of organisations that suffered from them, with 32 per cent of organisations reporting DDoS attacks.

No matter your organisation or industry, DDoS attacks are here to stay and the nature of them is evolving. The below are a few tips to mitigate the risk of a DDoS attack bringing down your company.

Load balancing: This is one way to protect against DDoS attacks. Essentially, if companies are worried about DDoS attacks over working their server, they simply get more servers in order to balance the load of requests.

This can be a very expensive and not always successful option.

Server testing: It is a good idea to test your organisation’s servers and networks to see how they would respond to a DDoS attack. Independent companies can be contracted to carry out this testing, identifying weak points in your server that you can then take steps to remedy.

Testing your servers and being prepared is always preferable to waiting for an attack.

Intrusion prevention solutions (IPS): Intrusion prevention is often seen as a mandatory security layer in the fight against many different cyber attack vectors, including DDoS. An IPS solution is required for deep traffic inspection in order to prevent malicious attempts to breach security and gain access to organisational assets.

An adequate IPS solution will prevent excessive communication that can indicate a DDoS attack.

Statistics-based DDoS protection technology: Technology that protects against DDoS attacks is available from many of the major security vendors. The key to getting the right DDoS protection technology is one that is based heavily on statistical analysis. There is little companies can do manually to protect against DDoS attacks as ultimately they are based on traffic that resembles regular, benign traffic.

Effective DDoS protection technology looks at what pages are being requested, whether that fits in with page requests based on historical statistics and looks at what is normal business behaviour and what isn’t. These technologies automatically identify DDoS attacks and then start to mitigate and block the attacks, with no need for involvement by the administrator.

Modern DDoS attacks use new techniques to exploit areas where traditional security solutions are not always equipped to protect. These attacks can cause serious network downtime to organisations which rely on networks and web services to operate. By taking a few simple steps and implementing the right DDoS protection technology, you can extend your organisation’s security perimeters to block destructive DDoS attacks before they cause damage.

Aviv Abramovich is director of engineering at Check Point Software Technologies Australia and New Zealand.

*Check Point 2013 Security Report, February 2013, Check Point Software Technologies. The full report is available at: http://www.checkpoint.com/campaigns/security-report/

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