When Size Matters
It is easy to get lost in the numbers when discussing distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks and other network breaches but the figures Arbor Networks released this week regarding DDoS attacks are worthy of special note. They are a strong indication of new threats for which network operators need to be prepared. (See Arbor Sees Alarming Rise in Size of DDoS Attacks.)
Those numbers come from the 275 network operators that are customers of Arbor Networks Inc. 's Atlas network security system and regularly report troublesome activity. They show that larger bit-per-second attacks are back in vogue, and have grown so rapidly they threaten to not only cause massive problems for their targeted companies but also for networks in general.
For the past couple of years, larger packet-per-second attacks were more the norm, says Darren Anstee, solutions architect team manager for Arbor. Those tend to exhaust forwarding performance.
Last March, however, the largest single cyber-attack to date was launched against the servers of Spamhaus, a non-profit agency that battles spam. Since that attack, the trend has been to ever larger bit-per-second attacks. The Spamhaus attack, which hit 300 Gbit/s, affected Internet traffic globally and hurt many businesses in the process.
And here are the staggering numbers: There has been more than 350 percent growth in the number of attacks monitored at greater than 20 Gbit/s so far this year, as compared to 2012. The average DDoS attack in 2013 is currently measured at 2.64 Gbit/s, up 78 percent from last year.
That's of particular concern to service providers because attacks of that size will not only swamp the resources of the target company but can also swamp aggregation routers serving that company and others, and create major congestion issues for the network in general.
"There is a much broader range of organizations that are going to get their Internet connectivity completely saturated by an average attack," says Anstee. "They will be dependent on their service providers or on cloud-based protection to deal with that."
These attacks are being launched either by cyber-criminals, who use them as distractions for other activity or as "take-outs" for extortion or other purposes, or by so-called "hacktivists," who for a variety of ideological reasons, target various companies or web operations for attack to make a political point.
Two suspects have been arrested in the Spamhaus attack, for example, one a Dutch participant in countercultural ISP and one a UK schoolboy who was apparently making considerable money from Internet activity. They targeted Spamhaus because of its efforts to identify and stop spam email that poses security threats.
Because it's harder to predict where attacks will come from next, it's become much more important to prepare for them, Anstee says. And that means making sure there are solutions in place to help customers who are attacked, as well as protection for the service providers' infrastructure to prevent or respond to collateral damage from these massive attacks.
"Since we are seeing more very large attacks -- we saw a 191Gbits/sec attack in August -- service providers also need to be looking at capacity planning models for their mitigation infrastructure," he warns. As the size of average and peak attacks grows, network operators must make sure they can deal with these larger threats.
As I said at the outset, it's easy to get lost in such staggering figures, but the latest warnings are not something to glaze over. There have been many other warnings as well, and expressions of concern that service providers aren't taking the rapidly growing threats seriously. Given that Arbor's numbers come straight from the networks themselves, this is proof of what lies ahead, ready or not. (See Security Threat Intensifies for Service Providers.)
— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading