The number of connected devices is growing exponentially, with one billion new IoT devices expected to ship this year alone. As such, IPv4 addresses have been exhausted, but IPv6 is on deck to address this concern. The new system allows for 2^128 IP addresses (in comparison, IPv4 only carried 2^32 possible IP addresses). So everything is fine, right?
While IPv6 will certainly aid in accommodating the growth of new connected phenomena, such as the Internet of Things (IoT), adoption at the moment is slow. And because IPv6 occupies such a relatively small space, Internet security implementations that take it into full consideration are also lagging. This leaves a lot of networks vulnerable to distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks.
DDoS attacks occur when Internet hackers use infected hosts to control connected devices remotely and make unwilling devices (bots) send malicious traffic to their target of choice. The target organizations are flooded with traffic, thus restricting or disabling service for legitimate traffic, or crashing the victim network. The most recent Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report noted:
“Distributed denial-of-service attacks got worse again this year with our reporting partners logging double the number of incidents from last year…We saw a significant jump in…attacks [that] rely on improperly secured services, such as Network Time Protocol (NTP), Domain Name System (DNS), and Simple Service Discovery Protocol (SSDP), which make it possible for attackers to spoof source IP addresses, send out a bazillion tiny request packets, and have the services inundate an unwitting target with the equivalent number of much larger payload replies.”
While most DDoS attacks do not, at present, involve IPv6, both the number and size of these attacks are rising, and IPv6 brings with it particular vulnerabilities. According to a recent CNET article: “First, with the relatively immature network infrastructure, many network operators don't have the ability to scrutinize network traffic well enough to distinguish DDoS attacks from benign traffic. Second, gateways that link IPv4 and IPv6 must store lots of ‘state’ information about the network traffic they handle, and that essentially makes them more brittle.”
The Internet of Things is also adding to the threat, according to an InfoSec Institute report “Internet of Things: How Much are We Exposed to Cyber Threats? The report, published earlier this year, cited the possibility of cyber criminals stealing sensitive information by hacking or compromising IoT devices to run cyberattacks against third-party entities using routers, SOHO devices or SmartTVs. “IoT devices manage a huge quantity of information, they are capillary distributed in every industry,” the report noted, “and, unfortunately, their current level of security is still low.”
And therein lies the nightmare scenario. We now have IPv6, accompanied by immature visibility tools; gateways between IPv4 and IPv6 that are brittle and precarious; and the unprecedented proliferation of relatively unsecure IoT devices, replete with those brand-spanking-new IPv6 vulnerabilities, all creating ubiquitous potential fuel for botnets. The reality is precisely as desperate as it sounds.
The best course of action to prepare for an onslaught of DDoS attacks exploiting IoT and IPv6 adoption is to ensure that your enterprise network security system can support the many connections from so many more connected devices. Also ensure the IPv6 support is on par with the IPv4-based feature set. Most attacks are carried out over IPv4, and by shifting over to IPv6, the attacker could bypass the defenses that only inspect IPv4 traffic. Meanwhile, IPv6-specific attack vectors have been reported
IPv6 and the IoT have arrived, and with them comes an enormous expansion in DDoS attack potential.