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Exclusive: DDoS attacks up, spike in attacks on govt agencies

By Kai Ping Lew
Fri 10 Aug 2018
FYI, this story is more than a year old

NETSCOUT has released its Arbor Active Threat Level Analysis System (ATLAS) report for the first half of 2018.

The report provides visibility into the dynamic and ever-changing attack environment and provides a representative view of the threat landscape.

Here are some of the highlights from the report:

1. DDoS attacks enter the terabit era

February’s Memcached-based attacks ushered in the terabit era of DDoS attacks. 

In fact, NETSCOUT Arbor mitigated the largest DDoS attack ever seen, a 1.7 Tbps DDoS attack in February of 2018 in the US.

Similar observations were made regarding the DDoS attack situation for Australia and New Zealand, where the large attacks that were recorded in the February timeframe were of the Memcached reflection-amplification variety.

However, the Memcached attacks went relatively quiet in the months following February, as our local security teams got control of this vulnerability.

Both Australia and New Zealand saw the average DDoS attack size climb sharply and both countries experienced attacks higher than one Gbps, with some reaching almost two Gbps in the early months of 2018.

Compared to the average DDoS attack size for the whole APAC region, Australia and New Zealand clearly experienced high average attack sizes.

Compared to what was happening two years ago, the average DDoS attack size was then around the 500-600 Mbps range, so there has been a huge jump.

2. Attack volume up, frequency down

The first half of 2018 saw about 2.8 billion attacks.

While that’s a huge number of attacks, the news lies in size rather than frequency. In targeting Australia and New Zealand, the attackers have advanced considerably in terms of utilising more sophisticated attack vectors.

From 2017 to 2018, there was a slight drop in attack frequency accompanied by a dramatic increase in attack size and scale.

However, that drop in frequency doesn’t mean that DDoS attacks are abating.

The maximum size of DDoS attacks increased 174% in H1 2018 compared with the same timeframe in 2017.

As attack tools grow more sophisticated, attackers have found it easier and cheaper to launch larger, more effective attacks.

3. APT groups expand beyond traditional arena

More nations are operating offensive cyber programs and the security research community is observing a broader set of threat actors.

Nation-state-sponsored activity has developed beyond the actors commonly associated with China and Russia, and NETSCOUT’s findings include campaigns attributed to Iran, North Korea and Vietnam.

4. Crimeware actors diversify attack methods

While email campaigns remain the primary attack venue, NETSCOUT observed notable changes in methods designed to accelerate malware proliferation.

Inspired by 2017 worm events such as WannaCry, major crimeware groups added worm modules to other malware with distinct objectives such as credential-theft or traditional loaders.

NETSCOUT also saw an increased focus on cryptocurrency mining in malware.

Attackers appear to see this method as a less risky and more profitable alternative to ransomware since the latter has the side effect of drawing attention from law enforcement agencies.

5. APAC was strongly targeted by DDoS campaigns

While the trend of a large increase in the size of attacks over a growth in frequency played out fairly consistently, Asia Pacific experienced a disproportionally large number of high-volume attacks in comparison with other regions.

China emerged as a highly targeted country, with 17 attacks greater than 500 Gbps in the first half of 2018 versus none during the same timeframe the year before.

6. Vertical industry targets expand

Further analysis of targeted verticals reveals some insights year over year.

Telecommunications providers and hosting services continued to observe the overwhelming majority of attacks, but this research identified big shifts year over year in a number of vertical sectors.

Attacks on systems integrators and consultancies were up, and government agencies such as consulates, embassies, the International Monetary Fund, the US State Department, and the United Nations experienced a sharp rise in attacks.

This aligns with the use of DDoS against targets by governments as well as those ideologically opposed to the interests represented by these institutions.

7. New DDoS attack vectors are rapidly leveraged

The Memcached attack campaign used vulnerabilities in misconfigured Memcached servers to launch enormous DDoS attacks, a process that took very little time from initial reporting to the first attack tool being made available and utilized to cause a global impact. 

While there was considerable mobilisation worldwide to fix vulnerable servers, the vector remains exploitable and will continue to be used.

The reality is that once a DDoS type is invented, it never really goes away.

8. Old threats get new life

Simple Service Discovery Protocol (SSDP) has been used for reflection/amplification attacks for many years, and ASERT debunked reports this year that claimed this existing tool represented a new type of DDoS campaign with potentially millions of vulnerable devices.

However, ASERT did uncover a new class of SSDP abuse where naive devices will respond to SSDP reflection/amplification attacks with a non-standard port.

The resulting flood of UDP packets has ephemeral source and destination ports, making mitigation more difficult—an SSDP diffraction attack.

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