Report: Smaller DDoS Attacks Can Be Deadlier

Reports busts several myths about the way the industry views the impact of distributed DDoS attacks

February 7, 2012

6 Min Read


MAHWAH, N.J.; February 6, 2012 -- Contrary to conventional thinking that large bandwidth cyber attacks wreak the most damage on enterprises, security experts at Radware (NASDAQ: RDWR) a leading provider of application delivery and application security solutions for virtual and cloud data centers, instead found that bigger problems usually come in small packages. That is one of the conclusions published today in the “2011 Global Application and Network Security Report”, a compilation of security findings providing a view of the state of cyber security worldwide.

The findings bust several myths about the way the industry views the impact of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. In particular, it challenges the belief that while a cyber attack may feel catastrophic at the time, most organization may never experience an intense attack. Also, a smaller, less intensive attack (76 percent of the attacks surveyed were under 1 Gbps) can cause more damage than DDoS attacks that gobble ten times the amount of bandwidth.

The report, prepared by Radware’s Emergency Response Team (ERT), is the product of a security survey sent to a wide variety of organizations, as well as an analysis of selected cases that were handled by the ERT that focus on DoS and DDoS attacks and their mitigation. Combined, they provide an informative and educational look at the types of attacks experienced, the victims and an overview of mitigation technologies.

Radware’s ERT is a group of dedicated security consultants who are available around the clock. As literal “first responders” to cyber attacks, Radware’s ERT members gained their extensive experience by successfully dealing with some of the industry’s most notable hacking episodes, providing the knowledge and expertise to mitigate the kind of attack a business’s security team may never have handled. Through the report, the ERT reveals how their in-the-trenches experiences fighting cyber attacks provide deeper forensic analysis than surveys alone or academic research.

Myth Busting

Although some organizations do incur massive DDoS attacks, many more never experience a high-magnitude attack, according to the report. Instead, these organizations are brought down by less intensive, but equally serious attacks. As mentioned earlier, 76 percent of attacks were less than 1Gbps in bandwidth, with 32 percent less than 10Mbps. Only nine percent of attacks in 2011 were over 10Gbps.

A review of cyber attack cases reveals that industry reports capturing public attention perpetuate a myth that only size counts. The thinking goes that if the bandwidth is bigger, then the attack is more severe. In fact, Radware’s ERT found that the type of attack is also significant. A much smaller HTTP flood on the application level may do more damage than a larger UDP flood on the network. When evaluating DoS attacks it is important to understand both the size and type of attack.

Other security myths that fall by the wayside in Radware’s security report include:

Firewalls or IPS alone can stop DDoS attacks -- Despite being designed to provide network security, firewalls and intrusion prevention systems (IPS) are impacted by DDoS attacks. Often the firewall is the weakest link. The report shows that in 32 percent of DDoS attacks, the firewall or IPS became the bottleneck. To stop DDoS attacks you need dedicated hardware solutions, not IPS and firewall technologies.

Content Delivery Network (CDN) providers protect a business against DDOS attacks -- The CDN occasionally can handle the less sophisticated, large-volume attacks by simply absorbing them (while the target customer will pay for that bandwidth, of course, as it was recognized as legitimate traffic). However, as seen by the recent cyber attacks that tried to bring down the Israeli financial system and national airline, the CDN was easily bypassed by changing the page request in every Web transaction. These random request techniques force CDNs to “raise the curtain” and forward all the attacks directly to the customer premise, in essence making the CDN act as a proxy unloading the attack traffic directly at the target servers.

The core DoS attack mitigation strategy is to defend and absorb – Businesses can and should have the ability to be proactive in their mitigation steps to stop malicious traffic or Website degradation with a strategy for going on the offense. This changes the rules in which the attacker always has the edge, and instead, levels the playing field. This can be done by identifying the attack tool used as the vehicle to carry the attack campaign and expose and exploit its inherent weaknesses to neutralize the attack tool in a “passive”, non-intrusive way.

“As the cyber security landscape continues to change with each new wave of attacks, DoS and DDoS attacks are changing as well and will continue to target organizations with more gusto than even before,” said Avi Chesla, chief technology officer, Radware. “For example, Radware’s 2011 Global Application and Network Security Report proves that in the past two years all serious cyber attack campaigns include volumetric as well as the low and slow attacks vectors, both generated simultaneously.

“Most Internet sites are inherently vulnerable, making it a major challenge for the average organization to predict whether or not their site will be attacked and what the volume of that attack might be. The fates of their organizations depend on utilizing the most advanced defensive and offensive maneuvers against these determined cyber criminals, and understanding all the intricacies of the current attack landscape,” Chesla said.

Other Report Findings:

56% of cyber attacks were targeted at applications; 46 % at the network.

Financial Services (28%), Government and eGaming (25% each) sites were targeted most.

In half of the attacks, companies did not know why they were targets. ‘Hacktivists’ with a political or social agenda accounted for 22% of the attacks; 12% came from angry users; 7% from the competition and 4% wanted a ransom in exchange for freeing the website.

DoS attacks became much more organized, professional and complex in 2011 with attackers using as many as five different attack vectors in a single attack campaign. No one point security tool could effectively block this sophisticated multi-level type of attacks. What is needed is a cocktail of techniques that together provide full protection.


Radware’s ERT recommends these ways businesses can protect against DoS and DDoS attacks:

Collect information about attacks such as type of attacks, size and frequency. Use the correct measures for the attack type. For example, the proper measurement for UDP floods is in bandwidth and PPS, while the measurement scale for HTTP floods is in transactions per second, concurrent connections, and new connections per second. The UDP flood may seem larger and more dangerous, but the HTTP connection-based attack can cause more damage with much less traffic than the UDP attack. Perform risk analysis at the business level to determine the budget you should allocate to improve your business resilience against DDoS attacks. For bandwidth saturation attacks, make sure your service provider can mitigate volumetric attacks that may saturate your bandwidth. For application attacks, deploy anti-DoS and network behavioral technologies on site.

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