When an attack using a basic Internet protocol makes the news, it tends to focus on the Web, with either HTTP or DNS in a starring role. But history shows us that other protocols can be used as both weapons and doors for attacking vulnerable organizations.
Three different protocols — BGP, NTP, and FTP — are especially useful to threat actors looking to disrupt operations or steal assets from individuals and organizations. Recent incidents around cryptocurrency wallets show just how effective Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) hijacking can be as part of an attack plan. BGP's mystery, from most users' points of view, stems from its complexity and adds to the danger because most organizations only begin to work directly with BGP when their networks pass into the "very large" category.
Network Time Protocol (NTP) might seem like the sort of protocol that is merely convenient, allowing users to avoid listening for time announcements on the radio and typing the results into their systems, but everything from cryptography to file transfer depends on computers and network components getting authoritative time from a canonical server. This requirement makes NTP ubiquitous and valuable when it comes to wreaking havoc on a victim.
And while users tend to use HTTP far more than File Transfer Protocol (FTP) for moving files between systems, many applications and systems still use FTP as an essential mechanism. Because FTP is often used for transferring very large files, it becomes a powerful weapon when criminals are able to use it against a target.
"Stop using these protocols" isn't practical advice for most organizations; far too many applications and users depend on them to make abandonment anything but a very long-term solution — and in the case of BGP and NTP, no replacement is on the horizon. So it becomes necessary for companies to figure out how to protect the protocols so that they remain tools while not becoming weapons or critical vulnerabilities.
There are, of course, many ways to protect network foundation protocols, but a handful of suggestions may help spur thought and provide inspiration for moving defense forward. This list is intended to provide a jumping-off point for discussions on how an organization can protect itself and its Internet neighbors from harm through one of these protocols.
What steps has your organization taken to protect these essential protocols? If you have found a suggestion not on this list to be especially helpful, let us know in the comments, below. The online community is waiting to become more secure!
(Image: Tatiana Popova)
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Curtis Franklin Jr. is Senior Analyst at Omdia, focusing on enterprise security management. Curtis has been writing about technologies and products in computing and networking since the early 1980s. He has been on staff and contributed to technology-industry publications ... View Full Bio