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Attacks/Breaches

5/2/2017
05:45 PM
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DDoS Attacks Surge, Organizations Struggle to Respond

Organizations often discover a DDoS attack only after being alerted to the fact by a third-party or customer, Neustar survey shows.

Despite heightened awareness of distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, organizations are taking longer to detect and respond to them.

Neustar, as it has done the previous three years, surveyed some 1,010 CISOs, CIOs, CTOs, and other corporate executives from around the world on the frequency and impact of DDoS attacks on their organizations. About 50% of the respondents identified themselves as belonging to companies with revenues of between $500 million and $1 billion.

The results show that DDoS attacks have increased in frequency and volume even as organizations are struggling to detect and mitigate them quickly. About 850 respondents, or 84% of the total, say their organizations have experienced at least one DDoS attack in the past 12 months, compared to the 73% who said the same thing in last year’s survey.

Eighty-six percent of those 850 organizations say they have contended with multiple DDoS attacks over the past year. That number represents a 4% increase over the proportion of organizations who say they had experienced more than one DDoS attack last year.

Nearly half of the impacted organizations say their DDoS attacks coincided with some form of breach or malicious activity on their networks, including data theft and ransomware. For instance, 47% report discovering virus activity on their network after a DDoS attack, 43% cite malware as being activated, and 32% report customer data theft.

The survey found that in many cases victim organizations did not know they were the targets of a DDoS attack until a third-party or  a customer alerted them. In fact, about one in 5 victim organizations over the past year learned about a DDoS attack only after being notified about it by an external third-party or by their customers.

Hours to ID a DDoS

Globally, slightly more than half of all organizations that sustained a DDoS attack required a minimum of three hours to positively identify it, while 38% say it took them between three and five hours. On average, victims needed about three hours to respond to a DDoS attack, which was slower overall than the response times reported by respondents in last year’s survey.

The numbers are significant because of the potential losses that companies can experience as the result of a DDoS attack. More than 6 in 10 of the organizations surveyed estimate they would lose up to $100,000 in revenue per hour in the event of a disruption caused by a DDoS attack. Some 31% say they could lose between $250,000 to $1 million per hour, while 12% claim potential revenue losses of over $1 million per hour.

Inexperience dealing with DDoS attacks could be one reason for the delayed detection and response, says Barrett Lyon, Neustar’s head of research and development. Another is that large attacks that take infrastructures offline are rather easy to detect, but smaller ones are much harder to pin down.

"To those who have limited experience in mitigating attacks or have low-end protection, small complex attacks may be initially treated with performance investigations and diagnostics before arriving at the conclusion of an attack," Lyon says. "Unfortunately, many types of DDoS attacks ramp up quickly and can be over in a matter of minutes."

This can be, fast enough to bypass detection but long enough for external users to notice especially if the target is a Web-based service such as online banking, airline reservations, or utility payment systems.

Spike in Connectionless LDAP DDoS Attacks

The Nesutar survey uncovered a significant increase in DDoS attacks involving the abuse of the Connectionless LDAP (CLDAP) protocol in the first quarter of 2017. CLDAP is a version of LDAP that many organizations use for directory services — and inadvertently also leave exposed to Internet access.

Unlike LDAP, which uses the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) for communication, CLDAP uses the less secure User Datagram Protocol (UDP), making it somewhat easier to exploit in DDoS attacks.

Earlier this year, content distribution network Akamai published an alert noting a substantial increase in CLDAP-enabled DDoS attacks over the past several months. The company had described the new trend as troubling because of the extent of attack traffic amplification an attacker could achieve by exploiting CLDAP services that were exposed on the Internet.

In a similar report, security vendor Corero Network Security reported seeing a remarkable 416 CLDAP attacks since last October. The largest of these attacks had a peak bandwidth of 33Gbps, while the average volume was around 10Gbps.

Neustar says the largest CLDAP-enabled DDoS attack it has mitigated so far this year had a peak bandwidth size of 20.9 Gbps and lasted 14 minutes. In terms of size, that was much smaller than some of the terabit-scale DDoS attacks generated by the Mirai-botnet last year. Still, the incident demonstrated that CLDAP attacks can generate considerable momentum and are something to keep an eye on for the rest of the year, according to Neustar.

"A few years ago, a two gigabits-per-second attack could be quite disruptive, but its size was restricted to the amount of resources that could be economically and electronically marshaled," Lyon says. "Now, attackers can leverage resources such as web domains that use DNS Security Extensions [DNSSEC] to create tremendous amplification."

He points to a Neustar study last year, which identified a typical amplification factor of 29 for an 80-byte query: The largest attack was a 217-time amplification of an 80-byte query. "Better economics, more potent DDoS creation code being shared, and many [easily exploitable] are driving up attack size," he warns.

Nuestar's survey also suggests that the growing deployment of Internet of Things (IoT) devices such as connected sensors and actuators will pose new DDoS-related challenges for organizations. Of the organizations using IoT devices that became victims of a DDoS attack last year, 32% report damage to physical equipment, or a network compromise.

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Jai Vijayan is a seasoned technology reporter with over 20 years of experience in IT trade journalism. He was most recently a Senior Editor at Computerworld, where he covered information security and data privacy issues for the publication. Over the course of his 20-year ... View Full Bio

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