DDoS Attacks Still a Significant Threat

It's an attack vector that's been around ever since the Internet became a valuable business tool. Distributed Denial of Service, of DDoS, attacks are still one of the most prevalent threats facing businesses today.

There are reports suggesting that DDoS attacks are on the rise and that the Internet's DNS infrastructure – critical for the operation of the Internet – remains vulnerable and a significant target.

Jag Bains, the CTO at DOSarrest Internet Security, spoke to us about DDoS attacks and what can be done to mitigate their impact.

When we spoke with Michael McKinnon from AVG at the Tech Leaders forum in Queensland earlier this year, he said "So much damage is being done, for example, through spoof traffic. If most major network providers were responsible enough to stop traffic from leaving their networks that they knew were coming from IP addresses they weren't responsible for then we would have spoof traffic on the Internet and cut down networks responsible for this kind of damage".

I asked Bains what could be done to prevent DDoS attacks from being a viable attack vector and whether there was a benefit for network operators to not block the attacks.

"They're not doing it from a revenue opportunity. One guy's server is compromised for a few days and it flips out a huge bill. But, it's too much of a headache [for telcos] to make it a revenue stream'" said Bains.

"The big guns behind some of these attacks are occurring out of data centres that have compromised servers or hosting networks with compromised servers," he added.

Although it is possible to block spoof packets coming from a network, this would not be as straightforward as it sounds. Bains suggested that there would be significant cost.

"It comes at a CPU cost to your routers. You’re dealing with high traffic volumes that might create a different type of bottleneck," said Bains.

I challenged Bains on this, noting that Moore's Law will take this year's bottleneck and make it insignificant in a short time. In fact, if we'd taken action like this against DDoS attacks a decade ago there would be little need to suffer these attacks.

"Let's say we did that and it might help to stem these tidal wave attacks. But that doesn’t mean DDoS would have been thwarted. One of the most interesting things in the DDoS arena is the rise of application attacks coming from legitimate sources," he said.

As well as their use to cripple companies and use as a form of ransomware – it's not unknown for gambling operators in unregulated markets to use DDoS attacks to either cripple or ransom their competition – they can be used to manipulate financial markets.

According to Bains the recent Mount Gox attack, that resulted in losses of hundreds of millions of dollars of Bitcoin, was at least partly a DDoS attack.

"Hammering the exchange affected stability. Prices lowered and couldn’t come back up and they were using it to influence the peaks and troughs," he said.

"It's a tool that's crude in its intentions but highly effective".

Bains' company, DOSarrest claims to have a solution. Their software can shift the traffic from a DDoS attack to a server environment that is specifically designed to deal with the attack.

"All users have to do is change their DNS record to point to one of our IPs. We're able to take the DOS attack out of hosting the network, bring it to a topology or infrastructure that is groomed specifically for that only".

What's clear is that DDoS attacks are here to stay and that there is no silver bullet that will prevent their occurrence. However, it is possible to mitigate the damage they can do.

Anthony Caruana travelled to RSA Conference as a guest of RSA

For more RSA Conference 2014 read here

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