Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Attacks/Breaches

2/7/2019
10:30 AM
Mykola Konrad
Mykola Konrad
Commentary
Connect Directly
LinkedIn
RSS
E-Mail vvv
50%
50%

When 911 Goes Down: Why Voice Network Security Must Be a Priority

When there's a DDoS attack against your voice network, are you ready to fight against it?

An estimated 240 million calls are made to 911 in the US each year. With the US population estimated at more than 328 million people as of November 2018, this means each US resident makes, on average, more than one 911 call per year. 911 is a critical communications service that ensures the safety and individual welfare of our nation's people.

So, what happens when the system goes down?

Unfortunately, answers can include delays in emergency responses, reputational damage to your brand or enterprise by being associated with an outage, and even loss of life or property. We have seen very recent examples of how disruption in 911 services can impact municipalities. For example, days after Atlanta was struck by a widespread ransomware attack, news broke of a hacking attack on Baltimore's computer-assisted dispatch system, which is used to support and direct 911 and other emergency calls. For three days, dispatchers were forced to track emergency calls manually as the system was rebuilt — severely crippling their ability to handle life-and-death situations.

In 2017, cybersecurity firm SecuLore Solutions reported that there had been 184 cyberattacks on public safety agencies and local governments within the previous two years. 911 centers had been directly or indirectly attacked in almost a quarter of those cases, most of which involved distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks.

Unfortunately, these kinds of DDoS attacks will continue unless we make it a priority to improve the security of voice systems, which remain dangerously vulnerable. This is true not just for America's emergency response networks, but also for voice networks across a variety of organizations and industries.

The Evolving DDoS Landscape
In today's business world, every industry sector now relies on Internet connectivity and 24/7 access to online services to successfully conduct sales, stay productive, and communicate with customers. With each DDoS incident costing $981,000 on average, no organization can afford to have its systems offline.

This is a far cry from the early days of DDoS, when a 13-year-old student discovered he could force all 31 users of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign's CERL instruction system to power off at once. DDoS was primarily used as a pranking tool until 2007, when Estonian banks, media outlets, and government bodies were taken down by unprecedented levels of Internet traffic, which sparked nationwide riots.

Today, DDoS techniques have evolved to use Internet of Things devices, botnets, self-learning algorithms, and multivector techniques to amplify attacks that can take down critical infrastructure or shut down an organization's entire operations. Last year, GitHub experienced the largest-ever DDoS attack, which relied on UDP-based memcached traffic to boost its power. And just last month, GitHub experienced a DDoS attack that was four times larger.

As these attacks become bigger, more sophisticated, and more frequent, security measures have also evolved. Organizations have made dramatic improvements in implementing IP data-focused security strategies; however, IP voice and video haven't received the same attention, despite being equally vulnerable. Regulated industries like financial services, insurance, education, and healthcare are particularly susceptible — in 2012, a string of DDoS attacks severely disrupted the online and mobile banking services of several major US banks for extended periods of time. Similarly, consider financial trading — since some transactions are still done over the phone, those jobs would effectively grind to a halt if a DDoS attack successfully took down their voice network.

As more voice travels over IP networks and as more voice-activated technologies are adopted, the more DDoS poses a significant threat to critical infrastructure, businesses, and entire industries. According to a recent IDC survey, more than 50% of IT security decision-makers say their organization has been the victim of a DDoS attack as many as 10 times in the past year.

Say Goodbye to DDoS Attacks
For the best protection from DDoS attacks, organizations should consider implementing a comprehensive security strategy that includes multiple layers and technologies. Like any security strategy, there is no panacea, but by combining the following solutions with other security best practices, organizations will be able to better mitigate the damages of DDoS attacks:

  • Traditional firewalls: While traditional firewalls likely won't protect against a large-scale DDoS attack, they are foundational in helping organizations protect data across enterprise networks and for protection against moderate DDoS attacks.
  • Session border controllers (SBCs): What traditional firewalls do for data, SBCs do for voice and video data, which is increasingly shared over IP networks and provided by online services. SBCs can also act as session managers, providing policy enforcement, load balancing and network/traffic analysis. (Note: Ribbon Communications is one of a number of companies that provide SBCs.)
  • Web application firewalls: As we've seen with many DDoS attacks, the target is often a particular website or online service. And for many companies these days, website uptime is mission-critical. Web application firewalls extend the power of traditional firewalls to corporate websites.

Further, when these technologies are paired with big data analytics and machine learning, organizations can better predict normative endpoint and network behavior. In turn, they can more easily identify suspicious and anomalous actions, like the repetitive calling patterns representative of telephony DoS attacks or toll fraud.

DDoS attacks will continue to be a threat for organizations to contend with. Cybercriminals will always look toward new attack vectors, such as voice networks, to find the one weak spot in even the most stalwart of defenses. If organizations don't take the steps necessary to make voice systems more secure, critical infrastructure, contact centers, healthcare providers, financial services and educational institutions will certainly fall victim. After all, it only takes one overlooked vulnerability to let attackers in.

Related Content:

 

 

Join Dark Reading LIVE for two cybersecurity summits at Interop 2019. Learn from the industry's most knowledgeable IT security experts. Check out the Interop agenda here.

As Vice President of Product Management, Mykola Konrad leads Ribbon Communications' global SBC, Analytics, and Security product portfolio. Mykola has 25 years of technology development and product management experience, most recently serving as Vice President of Marketing at ... View Full Bio
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
brtech99
50%
50%
brtech99,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/10/2019 | 5:37:46 PM
Firewalls and SBCs are ineffective against DDoS and TDoS
DDoS and TDoS attacks like the ones you cite are now exceeding a terabit of bandwidth.  Firewalls and Session Border Controllers are totally unable to cope with attacks anywhere near this size.  In fact, these days, nearly all botnet driven DDoS or TDoS generates more load than any firewall or SBC can handle.  So suggesting that PSAPs rely on firewalls and SBCs is wrong, which I suspect most DarkReaders know.

Mitiigation of DDoS and TDoS is very possible.  Several mitigation services have multiple terabits of capacity available and can successfully defend against these large attacks.  That's the solution needed.

Individual PSAPs are unlikely to have networks that are designed for and capable of using a mitigation service.  Instead, their connectivity needs to be provided by an Emegency Services IP network that is built to handle such attacks, usually by employing one of the available mitigation services.

Firewalls and SBCs have a place in the security architecture for public safety, but they don't work for denial of service attacks.  Please don't spread misinformation like this.
REISEN1955
50%
50%
REISEN1955,
User Rank: Ninja
2/7/2019 | 1:29:42 PM
Life Critical systems
The hack into SONY PICTURES several years ago yielded data, scripts and 5 exposed films for download and that was about it.  911 and hospital systems are, though, LIFE CRITICAL systems.  Same for failures in the payment of Medicare systems and the mess that, for example, CSC made of Englands NHS system.  LIVES DEPEND on some things and 911 is one siuch resource.  (This writer has to be careful as i am also a survivor of 9/11 for all that implies.)   Bringing such down impedes emergency services, timely calls and can involve personal death.  So these are truly critical in the highest sense of the word.  Deserve max protection and monitoring. 

i should add that letting WATSON do cancer diagnosis for patients was an equally horrorific idea. 
Data Leak Week: Billions of Sensitive Files Exposed Online
Kelly Jackson Higgins, Executive Editor at Dark Reading,  12/10/2019
Lessons from the NSA: Know Your Assets
Robert Lemos, Contributing Writer,  12/12/2019
4 Tips to Run Fast in the Face of Digital Transformation
Shane Buckley, President & Chief Operating Officer, Gigamon,  12/9/2019
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
The Year in Security: 2019
This Tech Digest provides a wrap up and overview of the year's top cybersecurity news stories. It was a year of new twists on old threats, with fears of another WannaCry-type worm and of a possible botnet army of Wi-Fi routers. But 2019 also underscored the risk of firmware and trusted security tools harboring dangerous holes that cybercriminals and nation-state hackers could readily abuse. Read more.
Flash Poll
Rethinking Enterprise Data Defense
Rethinking Enterprise Data Defense
Frustrated with recurring intrusions and breaches, cybersecurity professionals are questioning some of the industrys conventional wisdom. Heres a look at what theyre thinking about.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2019-19797
PUBLISHED: 2019-12-15
read_colordef in read.c in Xfig fig2dev 3.2.7b has an out-of-bounds write.
CVE-2019-5252
PUBLISHED: 2019-12-14
There is an improper authentication vulnerability in Huawei smartphones (Y9, Honor 8X, Honor 9 Lite, Honor 9i, Y6 Pro). The applock does not perform a sufficient authentication in a rare condition. Successful exploit could allow the attacker to use the application locked by applock in an instant.
CVE-2019-5235
PUBLISHED: 2019-12-14
Some Huawei smart phones have a null pointer dereference vulnerability. An attacker crafts specific packets and sends to the affected product to exploit this vulnerability. Successful exploitation may cause the affected phone to be abnormal.
CVE-2019-5264
PUBLISHED: 2019-12-13
There is an information disclosure vulnerability in certain Huawei smartphones (Mate 10;Mate 10 Pro;Honor V10;Changxiang 7S;P-smart;Changxiang 8 Plus;Y9 2018;Honor 9 Lite;Honor 9i;Mate 9). The software does not properly handle certain information of applications locked by applock in a rare condition...
CVE-2019-5277
PUBLISHED: 2019-12-13
Huawei CloudUSM-EUA V600R006C10;V600R019C00 have an information leak vulnerability. Due to improper configuration, the attacker may cause information leak by successful exploitation.