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20 years of DDoS

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.”

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Cisco gives pre-owned tech a Refresh

In a market of constant upgrades, Cisco Refresh aims to keep quality product away from landfills, writes BRYAN TURNER.

When one gets a new smartphone upgrade, the old device may be used as a backup or can be used by someone else. In business environments, equipment upgrades may not be conducive to keeping old equipment around, which may send older, working equipment to landfills.

This is where Cisco’s Refresh initiative comes in. At Cisco Connect in Sun City this week, Ehrika Gladden, VP and general manager of Cisco Refresh, lifted the lid on a little-known aspect of the company’s strategy. 

“Refresh is Cisco’s global pre-owned equipment business unit,” said Gladden. “It is certified to meet the quality and engineering standards of Cisco. It is licensed for software and it’s also inclusive of a services warranty.

“Our responsibility in 80 countries around the world is tied to both the recovery of assets and the ability to leverage those assets at a lower price point. This ensures our sustainability and proper usage of the Earth’s resources while providing access to small and medium businesses. The products are typically in the range of 20-40% cheaper. The products represent the entire portfolio for Cisco in some part, the majority of that product set is 2+ years in terms of generation.”

Cisco’s Circular Economy initiative ensures a sustainable loop through businesses willing to pay a premium for the latest, cutting-edge solutions, while Cisco markets older, working equipment for resale to those who don’t require the latest solutions. This ensures far less new components need to be used in a product range.

“We are leveraging the model of remanufacturing, refurbishing, recycling, and reusing,” said Gladden. “Depending on the product set, there is a certain set of product yield that we expect. They vary from product to product, but we do have a percentage that doesn’t make it through.

“Those are always reused, meaning we will look at those products and decide to use them completely differently, leveraging the components, remanufacturing back into the overall build process. If that can’t be done, we will go into a recycle process where we melt those products down to reuse them.”

Repairing and refurbishing older products isn’t just that. Cisco is creating repair centres that are owned by third-parties to uplift local ownership.

“The repair centres, as a global manufacturer, is Cisco’s entree into local ownership,” said Gladden. “I want to be precise about what I mean by local ownership. It’s critical for us to have a localised presence, but doing that through ownership. When you look at inclusive economies, those that are participative, to be sustainable – not in the product set, but generationally.

“The ability as a global manufacturer through a local ownership model  isto create a repair centre where a product can be returned, screened, tested, and repaired, leveraging the talent that the Networking Academy is creating.”

Cisco is working closely with local governments to understand where it operates and how to leverage the skills in the market.

Gladden said: “We are also super excited about the National Development Plan and African Union statements which with we align: eradication of poverty, job creation, ownership, healthcare, education, it all fits in the model. So we were very excited to have the opportunity to come to Africa first to announce this. Over the next twelve months, we want to establish our first repair centres, and in the next 3 to 5 years, build that vision into a reality.”

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Why Data Privacy has become a Pipe Dream

If you’re active on WhatsApp, Facebook or any other social platform, you’re not as safe as you thought, writes
AARON THORNTON, MD of Dial a Nerd

As you begin to read this, let’s perform a quick experiment! How many active conversations are you engaged in – right now – on WhatsApp? When was the last time you shared a picture or video on Instagram? Is Facebook currently open and active on one of your devices? And how many internet- connected devices are you using at this moment? Chances are, you have multiple devices running multiple applications most of the time. So what’s the problem, you ask? Since when did checking in with a high school buddy in Australia via Facebook become a dangerous act?  

In reply, we say, read on if you can stomach it!  

Nation-State Hacking & You  

It might seem like a laughably long shot to say that you are a key player in the increasingly sinister and sophisticated world of nation-state hacking. Well, you are. Given that individuals, businesses and governments are now constantly connected, round the clock, consumers and businesses have become fair game in cyber espionage. And as we create and share more and more data, both the value and accessibility of that data increases. According to a report by McAfee, IP theft now accounts for more than 25% of the estimated $600 billion cost of cybercrime to the world economy.    

With data having become the ‘new gold’, nation states are naturally pouring investment and key resources into building advanced cyber warfare tools. Indeed, entire divisions of armed forces as well as the upper echelons of corporate leadership are devising ways to harness data to gain economic, political and social power. At the highest level, tools and platforms are being developed with the specific aim of perpetrating cyber espionage and data theft. No surprise then, that the consumer and business environments are rife with increasingly advanced malware, ransomware and many other malicious hacking tools and methods.  

Still not convinced? Yes, we can smell the scepticism from here! So let’s take a moment to see how this has already played out, beneath our noses.  

Remember the Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal of early 2018? For many, this was a watershed moment in the emerging war for consumer data – and the ensuing tensions between privacy, power and profit. Need a refresh? Well, in 2018, Facebook exposed data on up to 87 million Facebook users to a researcher who worked at Cambridge Analytica, which worked for the Trump campaign. In essence, the data was harvested without user consent and used for political purposes.  

Another chilling but less direct example can be found in Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections. According to Politico, Russia launched a massive social media campaign to ‘sow discord’ leading up to the elections. The website reported that as early as 2014, an infamous Russian “troll farm” known as the Internet Research Agency – a company linked to Russian president Putin – developed a strategy using fraudulent bank accounts and other fake identity documents to “spread distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.” 

When referring to the Russian hacks and their impact on election results, one U.S. Representative sagely noted: “They didn’t just steal data; they weaponized it.” 

Ignorance is not bliss 

Okay, so data is being ‘weaponized’, and ordinary people and businesses are being caught in the crosshairs of cyber warfare. A little bit frightening, but the good news is that savvy individuals like you can take steps to protect personal data and actively combat the creeping influence of juggernauts such as Facebook and Google.  

To begin with, awareness is key. As you engage with various platforms and applications at work and at home, take time to understand how your data is being used and what the terms of use are. Is your data being accessed and sold to advertisers? Have you consented to this? In addition to scrutinizing your consent, also pay close attention to how much data you share online – and the nature of the details you are divulging. Always keep in mind that hackers are employing smart social engineering tactics and using the details of your private life (birthdays, holidays, pet’s names, etc) to trick you into opening infected emails and clicking on malware. Whenever you are online, you are a target – and vigilance at all times is critical. Beyond that, it goes without saying that you must commit to following basic security protocols with your devices. So always keep software up to date and keep your data backed up so that you can reboot or wipe a device if needed.   

Now that we’ve left you sufficiently spooked, you can get back to those demanding WhatsApp/Facebook/Instagram notifications (same company, by the way)…albeit, we hope, with a slightly altered [cyber] worldview!  

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