FireHost Report Suggests Commodity Cloud Providers Are Bolstering Botnet Agility

Q2 2013 sees sharp increase in blended, automated attacks

July 30, 2013

6 Min Read


DALLAS--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Secure cloud hosting company, FireHost, has today announced its Q2 2013 Web application attack statistics, which form part of FireHost's quarterly Superfecta report. These statistics track the prevalence of four distinct types of cyberattacks* that pose the most serious threat to businesses, comprising CSRF, XSS, SQL Injection and Directory Traversal. For additional information on FireHost's Q2 2013 Superfecta report, visit Booth #621 at BlackHat USA 2013 in Las Vegas.

"IPRM filters many types of illegitimate traffic including botnet command and control servers, botnet zombies, phishing attempts, spam and other malicious sources"

Detailing almost 24 million cyberattacks, FireHost has seen a large percentage increase in the number of common Web attacks such as SQL Injection and Cross-Site Request Forgery. This increase can be attributed to ease of automation, enabling hackers to combine these techniques to quickly and surreptitiously steal data, install malware on servers, assimilate new botnet zombies or simply take down a site. For instance, Directory Traversal (23 percent of Q2's Superfecta attack traffic), which helps identify what files are on a system and accesses files that aren't intended to be publicly available, may be used during the "reconnaissance phase" before attacking another vulnerability using techniques such as a SQL Injection, where the attacker or group of attackers can steal credit card details, usernames, passwords and other sensitive data.

Compared with Q1 2013, the volume of Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF) attacks rose 16% while SQL Injection attacks, which have increased in each of the last five quarters, rose another 28% in Q2 2013. Although Cross-site Scripting (XSS) is still the most prevalent attack type, with more than 1.2 million attacks being blocked this quarter, the small percentage increase (just 0.7 percent) in this type of attack suggests that XSS, when used in concert with other exploits, enables cybercriminals to gain access to more complex, higher reward attack vectors. What's even more alarming is that these blended, automated attacks are being used increasingly from within cloud service provider networks.

"Cybercriminals can easily deploy and administer powerful botnets that run on cloud infrastructure," said FireHost founder and CEO Chris Drake. "Unfortunately, many cloud providers don't adequately validate new customer sign-ups so opening accounts with fake information is quite easy. Once the account is created, application programming interfaces can be leveraged to deploy a lot of computing power on fast networks, giving a person the ability to create substantial havoc with minimal effort."

Robert Bigman, president of 2BSecure, a privately held information security consulting company and former chief information security officer at the Central Intelligence Agency concurred and added that cybercriminals are also obtaining intelligence on which hosting services companies use in order to develop penetration strategies.

"This includes becoming a customer on various commercial shared services platforms to use virtual guest and hosting hacking vectors to gain access to customers' sensitive data, including transactions," he said. "Cybercriminals are also enumerating target workstation clients to identify software VPN connections to shared services platforms and accordingly, taking over workstations to gain access into cloud environments."

IP Reputation Management

Since the start of 2013, FireHost customers have been protected by an IP Reputation Management (IPRM) system. In the second quarter of 2013, the IPRM system filtered about 10 million instances of illegitimate traffic, and to date in 2013, 1.3 million unique attackers have been blocked, an average of 138,000 attacks per day.

Date range: Q2 2013

Number of total attacks: 23,926,025

Number of attacks automatically filtered by IPRM: 9,876,834

Percentage of total attacks filtered from March – June 2013: 41%

"IPRM filters many types of illegitimate traffic including botnet command and control servers, botnet zombies, phishing attempts, spam and other malicious sources," said Chris Hinkley, CISSP and senior security architect at FireHost. "Implementing this system has helped to decrease the number of total attacks against our customers by about 40% since the last quarter, which translates to an increase in our infrastructure's performance and efficiency, even as we continue to add new customers with higher computing power needs. While this is an extremely effective method of blocking illegitimate IP addresses, many other attacks often come from trusted sources. This poses a serious threat to our customers, which is why FireHost tracks attack vectors at a macro and micro level and monitors changes in the threat landscape so closely. Multiple layers of best-in-class security technology and expert configurations encapsulate every secure cloud server to create our Intelligent Security Model&trade, which gets smarter with every attack."

Comparison of Superfecta attacks between Q1 2013 and Q2 2013:

Q2 2013

XSS: 33%

CSRF: 26%

Directory Traversal: 23%

SQL Injection: 18%

Key statistics for the Q2 2013 Superfecta include:

Total number of all attack types blocked by FireHost in Q2 2013: 23,926,025 (This includes low level attacks that are automatically blocked by FireHost's IP Reputation Management "IPRM" filters)

Superfecta attacks increased by six percent during the quarter with a total number of 3,643,620 blocked in Q2 2013 (up from 3,410,212 in Q1 2013)

XSS was the most prevalent Superfecta attack type in Q2 2013 – with more than 1.2 million attacks being blocked, 33% of the total Superfecta attacks

SQL Injections now represent 18% of all Superfecta attacks, CSRF attacks are now 26% of the Superfecta total. Both have grown in volume since Q1 2013.

*Superfecta Definitions:

Cross-site Scripting (XSS) – Cross-site scripting involves the insertion of malicious code into webpages in order to manipulate website visitors. It is used by attackers for a range of reasons, from simply interfering with websites to launching phishing attacks against web users.

Directory Traversal – A Path Traversal attack aims to access files and directories that are stored outside the web root folder.

Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF) – CSRF is an attack that forces an end user to execute unwanted actions on a Web application in which he/she is currently authenticated.

SQL Injection – SQL Injection involves the entering of malicious commands into URLs and text fields on websites that happen to be vulnerable, usually in an attempt to steal the contents of databases storing valuable data such as credit card details or usernames and passwords. The attack vector has been associated with many high profile data breaches.

IPRM Definition:

FireHost's IP Reputation Management (IPRM) system prevents traffic from widely recognized untrusted sources such as malware distribution, control systems, the Russian Business Network or Chinese activist groups from even attempting to access FireHost's infrastructure. FireHost's IPRM sits on the perimeter layer of its infrastructure.

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About FireHost

FireHost offers the most secure cloud hosting available, protecting sensitive data and brand reputations of some of the largest companies in the world. With infrastructure built for security, compliance, performance and managed services, responsible businesses choose FireHost to reduce risk and improve the collection, storage and transmission of their most confidential data. Secure cloud servers, available in Dallas, Phoenix, London and Amsterdam, offer robust, geographically redundant business continuity options across all sites. Headquartered in Dallas, FireHost is the chosen secure cloud service provider for brands that won't compromise on the security of their payment card, healthcare and other highly sensitive data.

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