Distributed Denial-of-Service attacks, or DDoS, are increasing in number, have become more effective in a shorter length of time, and frequently have political rather than monetary motivations. Those are some of the takeaways from several recent reports on the practice.
Security company Prolexic is reporting that, during last year's fourth quarter, there were 45 percent more DDoS attacks than the same time in the previous year, and more than double the number in the previous quarter. The company said that, while attacks are lasting a shorter period of time, they generally have a greater packet-per-second volume.
"Machine Gun with Laser"
Prolexic also said that the average attack bandwidth in the last quarter was 148 percent higher than the third quarter, and 136 percent more than a year ago.
Attacks are likely to be shorter, said Prolexic CTO Paul Sop in a statement, but with much more impact in terms of packet-per-second volume. "In the past," he said, "attackers had a rifle," while now "they have a machine gun with a laser." Prolexic also reported an increase in application-layer attacks against e-commerce companies.
Chelmsford, Massachusetts-based network provider Arbor Networks' annual Worldwide Infrastructure Report, released Tuesday, found that ideologically motivated "hacktivism" is the most frequent motivator for DDoS incidents. This replaces financial reasons, which had included competitive motives or extortion. Sometimes, the company said, DDoS attacks are used for distraction after financial theft has been conducted through the use of a Trojan.
The company also noted that there are a number of attack tools which have been developed in the last few years, making an attack something that people of various technical skills can readily launch. The tools include single user flooding tools, small host booters, shell booters, Remote Access Trojans with flooding capabilities, simple and complex DDoS bots, and even some commercial DDoS services.
"A Sea Change"
Arbor Networks noted that the threat is "obviously more severe from professionally coded bots," with smaller threats from small projects conducted by amateurs. But even the smaller attacks, it noted, can have Remote Access Trojan functionality that allows such actions as password theft, downloading and enabling malware, or keystroke detection.
The new tools and motivation, Arbor Networks said, "represents a sea change in the threat landscape." Arbor Networks Solutions Architect Roland Dobbins noted in a statement that 2011 represented "a democratization of DDoS," adding that any type and size of organization can become a target, and anyone can carry out such an attack.
As for defensive measures, Prolexic suggested companies leverage better monitoring and analysis tools, to provide greater alert accuracy and faster identification and analysis. "The faster attacks can be recognized," the company said, "the faster they can be mitigated."
Another security company, New Jersey-based Radware, also issued a report that noted small, less-intensive attacks can cause more damage than larger DDoS incidents. It said that firewalls and intrusion prevention systems are not sufficient to thwart attacks, and that the core mitigation strategy should be to "defend and absorb."
This includes quickly identifying the attack tool being used and exploiting its weaknesses, and making sure the service provider can "mitigate volumetric attacks that may saturate your bandwidth."
Charles King, an analyst with Pund-IT, said he's seen "a heightened awareness" among IT departments about such threats as DDoS, but added that there hasn't been "a great deal of evidence that companies are devoting more funds" to this issue.