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20 years of DDoS

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In 20 years, DDoS attacks have gone from being a novelty to a nuisance, and today they represent a threat against the availability and functionality of websites. BRYAN HAMMAN of Arbor Networks looks back at some of the attacks through the years.

Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks are more popular and dangerous today than at any time in history. In 20 years, DDoS attacks have gone from being a novelty to a nuisance, and finally today they represent a serious threat against the availability and functionality of websites, online services and applications.

This is according to Arbor Network’s territory manager for Sub-Saharan Africa, Bryan Hamman, who says, “Easy-to-use tools and cheap attack services have widened the potential net that DDoS attacks can cast.  Today, anyone with a grievance and an Internet connection can launch an attack. If we take a look back about 20 years or so, historic news headlines and the increasing size of attacks through the years indicate that this problem isn’t going to go away.”

Looking back at some of the attacks down the years

·        1996: Internet service provider (ISP) PANIX is struck by a sustained DDoS attack, affecting businesses that use Panix as their ISP.

·        1996: CERT/ CC – the Computer Emergency Response Team/ Coordination Center, a government-funded research and development centre based at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh – releases an advisory on the growing phenomenon of TCP SYN floods using spoofed source IP addresses.

·        1997: The world sees the arrival of early DDoS tools, such as Trinoo, Tribe Flood Network, TFN2K, Shaft, and others, often coded by their authors. Primitive DDoS networks emerge, using IRC and Eggdrop or the Sub7 Trojan.

·        1998: The document RFC 2267 is published, which details how network administrators can defeat DDoS attacks via anti-spoofing measures. This document eventually becomes a best current practice adopted by many networking vendors.

·        1998: The Smurf Amplifier Registry is launched to help discover and disable “Smurf” amplifiers, which are abused in DDoS attacks. Smurf Attacks use a spoofed broadcast ICMP ping to then reflect back to a victim to create the attack traffic. By 2012 over 193,000 networks have been found and fixed.

·        1998: Michael Calce, aka 15-year-old ‘Mafiaboy’, launches sustained DDoS attacks on multiple major eCommerce sites including Amazon, CNN, Dell, E*Trade, eBay, and Yahoo!. At the time, Yahoo! was the biggest search engine in the world. He is investigated by the FBI. The Montreal Youth Court sentenced him on September 12, 2001, to eight months of “open custody”, one year of probation, restricted use of the Internet, and a small fine.

·        2002: Significant “Smurf” attacks strike the root DNS servers and cause some outages for some sites. The attacks are eventually repelled. Total traffic eventually hits 900 Mbps.

·        2007: The former Soviet republic of Estonia is hit with sustained DDoS attacks following diplomatic tensions with Russia. The issues arise after Estonia moves a statue honouring Soviet forces who served in World War II against Nazi Germany.

·        2008: Russia is accused of attacking Georgian government websites in a cyber war to accompany its military bombardment, weeks before the invasion of the disputed territory of South Ossetia by Russian troops.

·        2008: Project Chanology is launched by members of “Anonymous”, a leaderless Internet-based group, in response to the Church of Scientology trying to remove an infamous Tom Cruise interview video from the Internet. Project Chanology used DDoS as part of its measures to try to disrupt the Church of Scientology’s operations.

·        2011: Members of Anonymous launch attacks against the sites of PayPal, Visa, and MasterCard in 2011 after the payment service providers refused to process financial donations intended for WikiLeaks.

·        2011: A DDoS attack on Sony is proportedly used to block the detection of a data breach that leads to the extraction of millions of customer records for PlayStation Network users.

·        2011 to 2012: Between December 2011 and March 2012, against a background of political tension in Russia including presidential elections, which were fraught with political demonstrations, DDoS attacks enter the political landscape, with DDoS attacks on both opposition as well as pro-government sites. The world sees Russian cybercriminal methods being used for political ends.

·        2012: Similarly, although arguably not so widely, DDoS attacks are used for political reasons when Canada’s New Democrat Party sees its leadership election negatively affected by a DDoS attack that delays voting and reduced turnout.

·        2012: Unknown groups hit various US and UK government-related websites in protest at these governments’ Wikileaks position.

·        2013: FBI says more cooperation with banks is key in probing cyberattacks.

·        2013: Largest attack reaches 300Gbps – Dutch anti-spam website Spamhaus is targeted for naming and blacklisting cybercrime hosting enterprises, spam and botnet operations.

·        2014: PlayStation Network and Xbox Live are attacked on Christmas Day.

·        2014: In Hong Kong, a huge attack is carried out against the territory’s pro-democracy websites. While many assumed that the culprit would have been the Chinese government, this is not necessarily certain. The attacker could, however, be someone who is not sympathetic with the Hong Kong democracy movement, or someone trying to make the Chinese government look bad.

·        2015: The Turkish Internet is hit with a massive DDoS attack, which came in the wake of Turkey shooting down a Russian military aircraft.

·        2015: British phone and broadband provider, TalkTalk, which has over four million UK customers, is hit by a DDoS attack, which is used as a smokescreen while customers’ personal information is stolen.

·        2015: On New Year’s Eve of 2015, the BBC’s entire domain, including its on-demand television and radio player, is down for three hours and continues to have issues for the rest of the day. The attack is claimed by a group called the “New World Hackers”.

·        2016: An IoT botnet targets a major international event with sophisticated, large-scale DDoS attacks sustaining 500 gb/sec in attack traffic for the duration of the event.

·        2016: The Mirai IoT botnet launches 1Tbps multi vector DDoS attack against DNS infrastructure, taking many of the world’s most popular websites offline.

Looking forward – where to from here?

Hamman says, “We can see clearly, when we look at the timeline of some of the most prominent DDoS attacks over the past two decades, that perpetrators launch these attacks for a variety of reasons. They can be hackers who want to make a statement, as in the case of Mafiaboy; governments of countries at war using cyberwarfare tactics as part of their general arsenal; and criminals trying to blackmail online businesses.

“There are also examples when cyber activists show displeasure against their targets, such as the 2011 attacks by members of Anonymous against the sites of PayPal, Visa and MasterCard, and the 2013 attacks against Spamhaus. The online gaming industry has also been targeted, with the blame generally going to disgruntled players or even competitors. We’ve also seen instances when DDoS attacks are used as a smokescreen to camouflage or draw attention away from other criminal activity an attacker might be doing, such as stealing data from the victim’s network, as in the 2015 example of the UK telecom TalkTalk last year.

Hamman says the IoT brings new demands and requirements to DDoS protection. He adds, “The Mirai IoT botnet reminds us that manufacturers and vendors also have a growing responsibility with respect to their technology and how it will be applied in diverse environments. They need to test for and consider the potential for exploitation. Ideally, all devices should be assessed for risk at the manufacturer and then again by those who are responsible for selling/ implementing them in enterprises.”

Hamman concludes, “Previously, it used to be that only certain types of business would be likely targets for a DDoS attack, with finance, gaming and e-commerce at the top of the list. Today, any business, for any reason, can become a target of a DDoS attack. A number of DDoS-for-hire services, for example, will take down a competitor’s website for any business that wants to hire them.

“The only answer, therefore, is to ensure you are protected. Arbor provides the industry’s most comprehensive suite of DDoS attack protection products and services for the enterprise, cloud/ hosting and service provider markets, with the required deployment model, scalability and pricing flexibility to meet the DDoS protection needs of any organisation operating online today.”

Africa News

Smart grids needed for Africa’s utilities

Power utilities across Africa should rethink their business models and how they manage and monetise their assets to keep pace with the changing energy ecosystem, says COLIN BEANEY, Global Industry Director for Asset-intensive and Energy and Utilities at IFS.

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Africa’s abundant natural resources and urgent need for power mean that it is one of the most exciting and innovative energy markets in a world that is moving rapidly towards clean, renewable energy sources. The continent’s energy industry is taking new approaches to providing unserved and underserved communities with access to power, with an emphasis on smart technologies and greener energy sources.

Power systems are evolving from centralised, top-down systems as interest in off-grid technology grows among African businesses and consumers. And according to PwC, we will see installed power capacity rise from 2012’s 90GW to 380GW in 2040 in sub-Saharan Africa. Power utilities are needing to rethink their business models and how they manage and monetise their assets to keep pace with the changing energy ecosystem.

Energy and utilities providers are transforming from centralised supply companies to more distributed, bi-directional service providers. They can only achieve this through the evolution of “smart grids” where sensors and smart meters will be able to provide the consumer with a more granular level of detail of power usage. This shift from an energy supplier to “lifestyle provider” will require a much more dynamic and optimised approach to maintenance and field service.

African companies must thus embrace digital transformation as an imperative. This transformation begins by embracing enterprise asset management to improve asset utilisation. The subsequent steps are enhancing upstream and downstream supply chain management; resource optimisation; introducing enterprise operational intelligence; embracing new technologies such as the Internet of Things, machine learning, and predictive maintenance; and becoming a smart utility.

Embracing mobility to drive ROI

Getting it right is about putting in place an enterprise backbone that accommodates asset and project management, multinational languages and currencies, new energies and markets, visualisation of the entire value chain, and mobility apps. Mobile technologies that support the field workforce have a vital role to play in driving better ROI from utilities’ investments in enterprise asset management and enterprise resource planning solutions.

Today’s leading enterprise asset management solutions feature powerful functionality for mobile management of the complete workflow of work orders – from logging status changes and updates, from receiving and creating new orders to concluding the job and reporting time, material and expenses. Such solutions are easy to deploy and intuitive for end users to learn and use.

Importantly for organisations operating in parts of the continent with poor telecoms infrastructure, connectivity is not an issue. The solutions work offline and synchronises when network connectivity is available. Users can work on any device—laptops, tablets, and smartphones—commercial or ruggedised.

By ensuring that field technicians have easy access to information and processes, the mobile solution enables technicians and maintenance engineers to easily do the following tasks:

·         Create a new work order on the fly and log new opportunities

·         Access both historical and planned work information when requested

·         Permit customers to sign when the job is completed

·         Capture measurements and inspection notes on route work orders

·         Create new fault reports on routing

·         Facilitate documentation through photo capturing

·         Provide easy access to technical data and preventive actions.

The power of mobility allows the engineer to be the origin of all data capture on a service event. They can easily inquire on asset history, record parts used or parts needed for repair, record labour hours, and expenses as they occur, and any notes of repairs performed. When coupled with workforce management tools, such solutions unlock significant productivity gains for utilities who are trying to get the most from their workforce and assets.

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Brands fall for app vanity

The experience of a mobile screen full of icons, representing independent apps that your need to open to experience them, is making less sense. Instead, businesses should serve customers with an ‘app-like’ experience inside the digital platform they already use, says PIETER DE VILLIERS, Group CEO at Clickatell.

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Many brands remain obsessed with creating mobile apps. This not only defies trends that point to increasing consumer app apathy, but can exclude a sizeable portion  of your customers in emerging economies. Companies need to engage with their users where they are rather than forcing them onto an app, in what can only be described as brand vanity. 

In 2017 there were around 2.2 million apps available in the iOS app store and over 3 million on Google Play. And, while the number of apps being downloaded continues to rise, analysis shows that consumers are only using 30 apps per month and accessing just 9 on a day-to-day basis. 

While these numbers still seem attractively high, in reality the majority of the apps we use are for messaging (like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and WeChat) and our social networking, gaming, leisure, dating or utility activities. 

Despite the facts, the application strategy as the holy grail for digital transformation is still being pushed even within large progressive brands. What’s more, some advertising agencies and digital consultants are still pushing apps as the best means for companies to connect with their customers. This has resulted in some organisations stubbornly doubling down on app strategies which are simply not showing return on investment (ROI). 

It’s not immediately clear to us whether the fascination with apps is a roll-over from long overdue projects or whether brand owners equate a mobile-first strategy with a mobile app. Mobile-first in 2018 means customer first, and therefore embracing chat commerce in order to deliver services with convenience and simplicity in mind. 

Why apps won’t win the internet

The problem with apps goes beyond user fatigue. In the first instance, many apps are poorly designed, assuming technical sophistication which may not match reality for the average customer. Poor user interfaces and attempts to provide complex engagement can result in even the best ideas missing their targets due to lack of engagement. 

Secondly, we all know that economic realities drive consumer behaviour. In Africa, new mobile phone users typically opt for feature phones over smartphones. With a longer battery life and a much more accessible price point, feature phones still allow for a basic internet connection, chat platforms like WhatsApp, and call and message functionality. In these regions, the cost of an app – even if it’s free – goes far beyond installing it. Constant updates require reliable and cheap access to the internet. For the average phone owner in an emerging market, this can be a serious challenge. 

Thirdly, and most importantly, apps must be relevant to their intended market. Frequency of usage is a key measure of relevance. 

Apps which are used on a daily basis, like health and fitness trackers, enjoy constant engagement. New features which are added are eagerly awaited by users who are happy to update their apps. 

However, users may well question the relevance of the app if they are required to conduct updates on a monthly or even weekly basis when they are only making use of the app once or twice a year. 

On average, I download one app per quarter. Some I use more frequently than others, but all of these apps need to be regularly updated to maintain security, update features, and fix bugs. Many apps are pushing out updates much more frequently. I noticed over the past year that I could go from having all apps updated, to 32 apps requiring an update in five days.

When it comes to a customer-first digital strategy, companies should be asking themselves if an app is really the best way to reach their target audience. 

In fact, at the end of 2016, Gartner predicted that by 2019, 20 percent of brands would ditch their mobile app. What’s more, in its 2018 predictions, the company forecast that by 2021, more than 50 percent of corporations would spend more per annum on bots and chatbots than on mobile app development. 

So, we need to ask, what is the alternative for CIOs, CDOs, CMOs, and digital leaders who are looking for ways to reach, retain and grow their customer base? 

The logical app alternative 

The old battle advice goes: fight your enemy where they are not. Military strategists agreed that having your enemy come to you and fight you on your own terms was preferable. In a world where customers have access to thousands of offerings and millions of deals online, we need to flip that idea to Meet Your Customers Where They Are. 

Any marketeer will tell you just a how difficult it is to drive app downloads. Development, cross platform testing and user interface aside, the marketing campaign required to get customers to download the app can swallow entire annual budgets and still come up short. 

Looking at the facts, it makes infinitely more sense to work within the digital platforms already being used by your target audience. 

Clickatell is already enabling chat commerce for some of the leading global brands with its Touch solution. This allows organisations to serve their customers with an ‘app-like’ experience inside the chat or browser platform of their customer’s choice (Twitter, Facebook Messenger, etc.) 

Brands can now send an actionable Touch link such as ‘find the nearest ATM’ or ‘reset my password’ within a chat stream that will open an intuitive touch card without the user having to download an app to perform the action. Services can also be linked to the in-app experience for brands not looking to abandon their app efforts. 

Working with our clients, many of whom are global innovators and thought leaders, we’ve found that having the courage to design with an ‘end user first’ approach and dealing with the back-end complexity behind the scenes results in cost efficient customer delight and ROI. 

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