Denial of Service Attack
A denial-of-service attack (DoS attack) or distributed denial-of-service attack (DDoS attack) is an attempt to make a computer resource unavailable to its intended users. Although the means to carry out, motives for, and targets of a DoS attack may vary, it generally consists of the concerted efforts of a person or people to prevent an Internet site or service from functioning efficiently or at all, temporarily or indefinitely. Perpetrators of DoS attacks typically target sites or services hosted on high-profile web servers such as banks, credit card payment gateways, and even root nameservers. The term is generally used with regards to computer networks, but is not limited to this field, for example, it is also used in reference to CPU resource management.
One common method of attack involves saturating the target machine with external communications requests, such that it cannot respond to legitimate traffic, or responds so slowly as to be rendered effectively unavailable. In general terms, DoS attacks are implemented by either forcing the targeted computer(s) to reset, or consuming its resources so that it can no longer provide its intended service or obstructing the communication media between the intended users and the victim so that they can no longer communicate adequately.
Denial-of-service attacks are considered violations of the IAB's Internet proper use policy, and also violate the acceptable use policies of virtually all Internet service providers. They also commonly constitute violations of the laws of individual nations. Contents
Symptoms and Manifestations
The United States Computer Emergency Response Team defines symptoms of denial-of-service attacks to include:
* Unusually slow network performance (opening files or accessing web sites) * Unavailability of a particular web site * Inability to access any web site * Dramatic increase in the number of spam emails received—(this type of DoS attack is considered an e-mail bomb)
Denial-of-service attacks can also lead to problems in the network 'branches' around the actual computer being attacked. For example, the bandwidth of a router between the Internet and a LAN may be consumed by an attack, compromising not only the intended computer, but also the entire network.
If the attack is conducted on a sufficiently large scale, entire geographical regions of Internet connectivity can be compromised without the attacker's knowledge or intent by incorrectly configured or flimsy network infrastructure equipment.
Methods of attack
A "denial-of-service" attack is characterized by an explicit attempt by attackers to prevent legitimate users of a service from using that service. There are two general forms of DoS attacks: those that crash services and those that flood services. Attacks can be directed at any network device, including attacks on routing devices and web, electronic mail, or Domain Name System servers.
A DoS attack can be perpetrated in a number of ways. The five basic types of attack are:
1. Consumption of computational resources, such as bandwidth, disk space, or processor time 2. Disruption of configuration information, such as routing information. 3. Disruption of state information, such as unsolicited resetting of TCP sessions. 4. Disruption of physical network components. 5. Obstructing the communication media between the intended users and the victim so that they can no longer communicate adequately.
A DoS attack may include execution of malware intended to:
* Max out the processor's usage, preventing any work from occurring. * Trigger errors in the microcode of the machine. * Trigger errors in the sequencing of instructions, so as to force the computer into an unstable state or lock-up. * Exploit errors in the operating system, causing resource starvation and/or thrashing, i.e. to use up all available facilities so no real work can be accomplished. * Crash the operating system itself.
See also: Smurf attack, Ping flood, Ping of death, and SYN flood
A smurf attack is one particular variant of a flooding DoS attack on the public Internet. It relies on misconfigured network devices that allow packets to be sent to all computer hosts on a particular network via the broadcast address of the network, rather than a specific machine. The network then serves as a smurf amplifier. In such an attack, the perpetrators will send large numbers of IP packets with the source address faked to appear to be the address of the victim. The network's bandwidth is quickly used up, preventing legitimate packets from getting through to their destination. To combat Denial of Service attacks on the Internet, services like the Smurf Amplifier Registry have given network service providers the ability to identify misconfigured networks and to take appropriate action such as filtering.
Ping flood is based on sending the victim an overwhelming number of ping packets, usually using the "ping" command from unix-like hosts (the -t flag on Windows systems has a far less malignant function). It is very simple to launch, the primary requirement being access to greater bandwidth than the victim.
SYN flood sends a flood of TCP/SYN packets, often with a forged sender address. Each of these packets is handled like a connection request, causing the server to spawn a half-open connection, by sending back a TCP/SYN-ACK packet, and waiting for a packet in response from the sender address. However, because the sender address is forged, the response never comes. These half-open connections saturate the number of available connections the server is able to make, keeping it from responding to legitimate requests until after the attack ends.
A Teardrop attack involves sending mangled IP fragments with overlapping, over-sized payloads to the target machine. This can crash various operating systems due to a bug in their TCP/IP fragmentation re-assembly code. Windows 3.1x, Windows 95 and Windows NT operating systems, as well as versions of Linux prior to versions 2.0.32 and 2.1.63 are vulnerable to this attack.
Around September 2009, a vulnerability in Vista was referred to as a "teardrop attack", but the attack targeted SMB2 which is a higher layer than the TCP packets that teardrop used.
Attackers have found a way to exploit a number of bugs in peer-to-peer servers to initiate DDoS attacks. The most aggressive of these peer-to-peer-DDoS attacks exploits DC++. Peer-to-peer attacks are different from regular botnet-based attacks. With peer-to-peer there is no botnet and the attacker does not have to communicate with the clients it subverts. Instead, the attacker acts as a 'puppet master,' instructing clients of large peer-to-peer file sharing hubs to disconnect from their peer-to-peer network and to connect to the victim's website instead. As a result, several thousand computers may aggressively try to connect to a target website. While a typical web server can handle a few hundred connections/sec before performance begins to degrade, most web servers fail almost instantly under five or six thousand connections/sec. With a moderately big peer-to-peer attack a site could potentially be hit with up to 750,000 connections in a short order. The targeted web server will be plugged up by the incoming connections. While peer-to-peer attacks are easy to identify with signatures, the large number of IP addresses that need to be blocked (often over 250,000 during the course of a big attack) means that this type of attack can overwhelm mitigation defenses. Even if a mitigation device can keep blocking IP addresses, there are other problems to consider. For instance, there is a brief moment where the connection is opened on the server side before the signature itself comes through. Only once the connection is opened to the server can the identifying signature be sent and detected, and the connection torn down. Even tearing down connections takes server resources and can harm the server.
This method of attack can be prevented by specifying in the p2p protocol which ports are allowed or not. If port 80 is not allowed, the possibilities for attack on websites can be very limited.
Permanent denial-of-service attacks
A permanent denial-of-service (PDoS), also known loosely as phlashing, is an attack that damages a system so badly that it requires replacement or reinstallation of hardware. Unlike the distributed denial-of-service attack, a PDoS attack exploits security flaws which allow remote administration on the management interfaces of the victim's hardware, such as routers, printers, or other networking hardware. The attacker uses these vulnerabilities to replace a device's firmware with a modified, corrupt, or defective firmware image—a process which when done legitimately is known as flashing. This therefore "bricks" the device, rendering it unusable for its original purpose until it can be repaired or replaced.
The PDoS is a pure hardware targeted attack which can be much faster and requires fewer resources than using a botnet in a DDoS attack. Because of these features, and the potential and high probability of security exploits on Network Enabled Embedded Devices (NEEDs), this technique has come to the attention of numerous hacker communities. PhlashDance is a tool created by Rich Smith (an employee of Hewlett-Packard's Systems Security Lab) used to detect and demonstrate PDoS vulnerabilities at the 2008 EUSecWest Applied Security Conference
Application level floods
On IRC, IRC floods are a common electronic warfare weapon.
Various DoS-causing exploits such as buffer overflow can cause server-running software to get confused and fill the disk space or consume all available memory or CPU time.
Other kinds of DoS rely primarily on brute force, flooding the target with an overwhelming flux of packets, oversaturating its connection bandwidth or depleting the target's system resources. Bandwidth-saturating floods rely on the attacker having higher bandwidth available than the victim; a common way of achieving this today is via Distributed Denial of Service, employing a botnet. Other floods may use specific packet types or connection requests to saturate finite resources by, for example, occupying the maximum number of open connections or filling the victim's disk space with logs.
A "banana attack" is another particular type of DoS. It involves redirecting outgoing messages from the client back onto the client, preventing outside access, as well as flooding the client with the sent packets.
An attacker with access to a victim's computer may slow it until it is unusable or crash it by using a fork bomb.
A Nuke is an old denial-of-service attack against computer networks consisting of fragmented or otherwise invalid ICMP packets sent to the target, achieved by using a modified ping utility to repeatedly send this corrupt data, thus slowing down the affected computer until it comes to a complete stop.
A specific example of a nuke attack that gained some prominence is the WinNuke, which exploited the vulnerability in the NetBIOS handler in Windows 95. A string of out-of-band data was sent to TCP port 139 of the victim's machine, causing it to lock up and display a Blue Screen of Death (BSOD).
Distributed Denial of Service Attack occurs when multiple systems flood the bandwidth or resources of a targeted system, usually one or more web servers. These systems are compromised by attackers using a variety of methods.
Malware can carry DDoS attack mechanisms; one of the better-known examples of this was MyDoom. Its DoS mechanism was triggered on a specific date and time. This type of DDoS involved hardcoding the target IP address prior to release of the malware and no further interaction was necessary to launch the attack.
A system may also be compromised with a trojan, allowing the attacker to download a zombie agent (or the trojan may contain one). Attackers can also break into systems using automated tools that exploit flaws in programs that listen for connections from remote hosts. This scenario primarily concerns systems acting as servers on the web.
Stacheldraht is a classic example of a DDoS tool. It utilizes a layered structure where the attacker uses a client program to connect to handlers, which are compromised systems that issue commands to the zombie agents, which in turn facilitate the DDoS attack. Agents are compromised via the handlers by the attacker, using automated routines to exploit vulnerabilities in programs that accept remote connections running on the targeted remote hosts. Each handler can control up to a thousand agents.
These collections of systems compromisers are known as botnets. DDoS tools like stacheldraht still use classic DoS attack methods centered on IP spoofing and amplification like smurf attacks and fraggle attacks (these are also known as bandwidth consumption attacks). SYN floods (also known as resource starvation attacks) may also be used. Newer tools can use DNS servers for DoS purposes. See next section.
Simple attacks such as SYN floods may appear with a wide range of source IP addresses, giving the appearance of a well distributed DDoS. These flood attacks do not require completion of the TCP three way handshake and attempt to exhaust the destination SYN queue or the server bandwidth. Because the source IP addresses can be trivially spoofed, an attack could come from a limited set of sources, or may even originate from a single host. Stack enhancements such as syn cookies may be effective mitigation against SYN queue flooding, however complete bandwidth exhaustion may require involvement
Unlike MyDoom's DDoS mechanism, botnets can be turned against any IP address. Script kiddies use them to deny the availability of well known websites to legitimate users. More sophisticated attackers use DDoS tools for the purposes of extortion — even against their business rivals.
It is important to note the difference between a DDoS and DoS attack. If an attacker mounts an attack from a single host it would be classified as a DoS attack. In fact, any attack against availability would be classed as a Denial of Service attack. On the other hand, if an attacker uses a thousand systems to simultaneously launch smurf attacks against a remote host, this would be classified as a DDoS attack.
The major advantages to an attacker of using a distributed denial-of-service attack are that multiple machines can generate more attack traffic than one machine, multiple attack machines are harder to turn off than one attack machine, and that the behavior of each attack machine can be stealthier, making it harder to track down and shut down. These attacker advantages cause challenges for defense mechanisms. For example, merely purchasing more incoming bandwidth than the current volume of the attack might not help, because the attacker might be able to simply add more attack machines.
A distributed reflected denial of service attack (DRDoS) involves sending forged requests of some type to a very large number of computers that will reply to the requests. Using Internet protocol spoofing, the source address is set to that of the targeted victim, which means all the replies will go to (and flood) the target.
ICMP Echo Request attacks (Smurf Attack) can be considered one form of reflected attack, as the flooding host(s) send Echo Requests to the broadcast addresses of mis-configured networks, thereby enticing many hosts to send Echo Reply packets to the victim. Some early DDoS programs implemented a distributed form of this attack.
Many services can be exploited to act as reflectors, some harder to block than others. DNS amplification attacks involve a new mechanism that increased the amplification effect, using a much larger list of DNS servers than seen earlier.  Degradation-of-service attacks
"Pulsing" zombies are compromised computers that are directed to launch intermittent and short-lived floodings of victim websites with the intent of merely slowing it rather than crashing it. This type of attack, referred to as "degradation-of-service" rather than "denial-of-service", can be more difficult to detect than regular zombie invasions and can disrupt and hamper connection to websites for prolonged periods of time, potentially causing more damage than concentrated floods. Exposure of degradation-of-service attacks is complicated further by the matter of discerning whether the attacks really are attacks or just healthy and likely desired increases in website traffic.
Unintentional denial of service
This describes a situation where a website ends up denied, not due to a deliberate attack by a single individual or group of individuals, but simply due to a sudden enormous spike in popularity. This can happen when an extremely popular website posts a prominent link to a second, less well-prepared site, for example, as part of a news story. The result is that a significant proportion of the primary site's regular users — potentially hundreds of thousands of people — click that link in the space of a few hours, having the same effect on the target website as a DDoS attack.
An example of this occurred when Michael Jackson died in 2009. Websites such as Google and Twitter slowed down or even crashed. Many sites' servers thought the requests were from a virus or spyware trying to cause a Denial of Service attack, warning users that their queries looked like "automated requests from a computer virus or spyware application".
News sites and link sites — sites whose primary function is to provide links to interesting content elsewhere on the Internet — are most likely to cause this phenomenon. The canonical example is the Slashdot effect. Sites such as Digg, the Drudge Report, Fark, Something Awful, and the webcomic Penny Arcade have their own corresponding "effects", known as "the Digg effect", being "drudged", "farking", "goonrushing" and "wanging"; respectively.
Routers have also been known to create unintentional DoS attacks, as both D-Link and Netgear routers have created NTP vandalism by flooding NTP servers without respecting the restrictions of client types or geographical limitations.
Similar unintentional denials of service can also occur via other media, e.g. when a URL is mentioned on television. If a server is being indexed by Google or another search engine during peak periods of activity, or does not have a lot of available bandwidth while being indexed, it can also experience the effects of a DoS attack.
Legal action has been taken in at least one such case. In 2006, Universal Tube & Rollform Equipment Corporation sued YouTube: massive numbers of would-be youtube.com users accidentally typed the tube company's URL, utube.com. As a result, the tube company ended up having to spend large amounts of money on upgrading their bandwidth.
Denial-of-Service Level II
The goal of DoS L2 (possibly DDoS) attack is to cause a launching of a defense mechanism which blocks the network segment from which the attack originated. In case of distributed attack or IP header modification (that depends on the kind of security behavior) it will fully block the attacked network from Internet, but without system crash.
Blind denial of service
In a blind denial of service attack, the attacker has a significant advantage. The attacker must be able to receive traffic from the victim, then the attacker must either subvert the routing fabric or use the attacker's own IP address. Either provides an opportunity for the victim to track the attacker and/or filter out his traffic. With a blind attack the attacker uses one or more forged IP addresses, making it extremely difficult for the victim to filter out those packets. The TCP SYN flood attack is an example of a blind attack.
-The first major attack involving DNS servers as reflectors occurred in January 2001. The target was Register.com. This attack, which forged requests for the MX records of AOL.com (to amplify the attack) lasted about a week before it could be traced back to all attacking hosts and shut off. It used a list of tens of thousands of DNS records that were a year old at the time of the attack.
-In February, 2001, the Irish Government's Department of Finance server was hit by a denial of service attack carried out as part of a student campaign from NUI Maynooth. The Department officially complained to the University authorities and a number of students were disciplined.
-In July 2002, the Honeynet Project Reverse Challenge was issued. The binary that was analyzed turned out to be yet another DDoS agent, which implemented several DNS related attacks, including an optimized form of a reflection attack.
-On two occasions to date, attackers have performed DNS Backbone DDoS Attacks on the DNS root servers. Since these machines are intended to provide service to all Internet users, these two denial of service attacks might be classified as attempts to take down the entire Internet, though it is unclear what the attackers' true motivations were. The first occurred in October 2002 and disrupted service at 9 of the 13 root servers. The second occurred in February 2007 and caused disruptions at two of the root servers.
-In February 2007, more than 10,000 online game servers in games such as Return to Castle Wolfenstein, Halo, Counter-Strike and many others were attacked by the hacker group RUS. The DDoS attack was made from more than a thousand computer units located in the republics of the former Soviet Union, mostly from Russia, Uzbekistan and Belarus. Minor attacks are still continuing to be made today.
-In the weeks leading up to the five-day 2008 South Ossetia war, a DDoS attack directed at Georgian government sites containing the message: "win+love+in+Rusia" effectively overloaded and shut down multiple Georgian servers. Websites targeted included the Web site of the Georgian president, Mikhail Saakashvili, rendered inoperable for 24 hours, and the National Bank of Georgia. While heavy suspicion was placed on Russia for orchestrating the attack through a proxy, the St. Petersburg-based criminal gang known as the Russian Business Network, or R.B.N, the Russian government denied the allegations, stating that it was possible that individuals in Russia or elsewhere had taken it upon themselves to start the attacks.
-During the 2009 Iranian election protests, foreign activists seeking to help the opposition engaged in DDoS attacks against Iran's government. The official website of the Iranian government (ahmedinejad.ir ) -was rendered inaccessible on several occasions. Critics claimed that the DDoS attacks also cut off internet access for protesters inside Iran; activists countered that, while this may have been true, the attacks still hindered President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government enough to aid the opposition.
-On June 25, 2009, the day Michael Jackson died, the spike in searches related to Michael Jackson was so big that Google News initially mistook it for an automated attack. As a result, for about 25 minutes, when some people searched Google News they saw a "We're sorry" page before finding the articles they were looking for.
-June 2009 the P2P site The Pirate Bay was rendered inaccessible due to a DDoS attack. This was most likely provoked by the recent sellout to Global Gaming Factory X AB, which was seen as a "take the money and run" solution to the website's legal issues. In the end, due to the buyers' financial troubles, the site was not sold.
-Multiple waves of July 2009 cyber attacks targeted a number of major websites in South Korea and the United States. The attacker used botnet and file update through internet is known to assist its spread. As it turns out, a computer trojan was coded to scan for existing MyDoom bots. MyDoom was a worm in 2004, and in July around 20,000-50,000 were present. MyDoom has a backdoor, which the DDoS bot could exploit. Since then, the DDoS bot removed itself, and completely formatted the hard drives. Most of the bots originated from China, and North Korea.
-On August 6, 2009 several social networking sites, including Twitter, Facebook, Livejournal, and Google blogging pages were hit by DDoS attacks, apparently aimed at Georgian blogger "Cyxymu". Although Google came through with only minor set-backs, these attacks left Twitter crippled for hours and Facebook did eventually restore service although some users still experienced trouble. Twitter's Site latency has continued to improve, however some web requests continue to fail.
-In July and August, 2010, the Irish Central Applications Office server was hit by a denial of service attack on four separate occasions, causing difficulties for thousands of Second Level students who are required to use the CAO to apply for University and College places. The attack is currently subject to a Garda investigation.
A wide array of programs are used to launch DoS-attacks. Most of these programs are completely focused on performing DoS-attacks, while others are also true Packet injectors, thus able to perform other tasks as well.
Some examples of such tools are hping, JAVA socket programming, and httping but these are not the only programs capable of such attacks. Such tools are intended for benign use, but they can also be utilized in launching attacks on victim networks. In addition to these tools, there exist a vast amount of underground tools used by attackers.
Prevention and response
Firewalls have simple rules such as to allow or deny protocols, ports or IP addresses. Some DoS attacks are too complex for today's firewalls, e.g. if there is an attack on port 80 (web service), firewalls cannot prevent that attack because they cannot distinguish good traffic from DoS attack traffic. Additionally, firewalls are too deep in the network hierarchy. Routers may be affected even before the firewall gets the traffic. Nonetheless, firewalls can effectively prevent users from launching simple flooding type attacks from machines behind the firewall.
Some stateful firewalls like OpenBSD's pF, can act as a proxy for connections, the handshake is validated (with the client) instead of simply forwarding the packet to the destination. It is available for other BSDs as well. In that context, it is called "synproxy".
Most switches have some rate-limiting and ACL capability. Some switches provide automatic and/or system-wide rate limiting, traffic shaping, delayed binding (TCP splicing), deep packet inspection and Bogon filtering (bogus IP filtering) to detect and remediate denial of service attacks through automatic rate filtering and WAN Link failover and balancing.
These schemes will work as long as the DoS attacks are something that can be prevented by using them. For example SYN flood can be prevented using delayed binding or TCP splicing. Similarly content based DoS can be prevented using deep packet inspection. Attacks originating from dark addresses or going to dark addresses can be prevented using Bogon filtering. Automatic rate filtering can work as long as you have set rate-thresholds correctly and granularly. Wan-link failover will work as long as both links have DoS/DDoS prevention mechanism.
Similar to switches, routers have some rate-limiting and ACL capability. They, too, are manually set. Most routers can be easily overwhelmed under DoS attack. If you add rules to take flow statistics out of the router during the DoS attacks, they further slow down and complicate the matter. Cisco IOS has features that prevent flooding, i.e. example settings.
Application front end hardware
Application front end hardware is intelligent hardware placed on the network before traffic reaches the servers. It can be used on networks in conjunction with routers and switches. Application front end hardware analyzes data packets as they enter the system, and then identifies them as priority, regular, or dangerous. There are more than 25 bandwidth management vendors. Hardware acceleration is key to bandwidth management.
IPS based prevention
Intrusion-prevention systems (IPS) are effective if the attacks have signatures associated with them. However, the trend among the attacks is to have legitimate content but bad intent. Intrusion-prevention systems which work on content recognition cannot block behavior-based DoS attacks.
An ASIC based IPS can detect and block denial of service attacks because they have the processing power and the granularity to analyze the attacks and act like a circuit breaker in an automated way.
A rate-based IPS (RBIPS) must analyze traffic granularly and continuously monitor the traffic pattern and determine if there is traffic anomaly. It must let the legitimate traffic flow while blocking the DoS attack traffic.
Prevention via proactive testing
Test platforms such as Mu Dynamics' Service Analyzer are available to perform simulated denial-of-service attacks that can be used to evaluate defensive mechanisms such IPS, RBIPS, as well as the popular denial-of-service mitigation products from Arbor Networks. An example of proactive testing of denial-of-service throttling capabilities in a switch was performed in 2008: The Juniper EX 4200
switch with integrated denial-of-service throttling was tested by Network Test
and the resulting review
was published in Network World
With blackholing, all the traffic to the attacked DNS or IP address is sent to a "black hole" (null interface, non-existent server, ...). To be more efficient and avoid affecting your network connectivity, it can be managed by the ISP.
Sinkholing routes to a valid IP address which analyzes traffic and reject bad ones. Sinkholing is not efficient for most severe attacks.
All traffic is passed through a "cleaning center" via a proxy, which separates "bad" traffic (DDoS and also other common internet attacks) and only sends good traffic beyond to the server. The provider needs central connectivity to the Internet to manage this kind of service.
Prolexic and Verisign are examples of providers of this service.
Side effects of DoS attacks
In computer network security, backscatter is a side-effect of a spoofed denial of service (DoS) attack. In this kind of attack, the attacker spoofs (or forges) the source address in IP packets sent to the victim. In general, the victim machine can not distinguish between the spoofed packets and legitimate packets, so the victim responds to the spoofed packets as it normally would. These response packets are known as backscatter.
If the attacker is spoofing source addresses randomly, the backscatter response packets from the victim will be sent back to random destinations. This effect can be used by network telescopes as indirect evidence of such attacks.
The term "backscatter analysis" refers to observing backscatter packets arriving at a statistically significant portion of the IP address space to determine characteristics of DoS attacks and victims.
An educational animation describing such backscatter can be found on the animations page
maintained by the Cooperative Association for Internet Data Analysis.
Denial-of-service attacks and the law
In the Police and Justice Act 2006, the United Kingdom specifically outlawed denial-of-service attacks and set a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
In the US, they can be a serious federal crime under the National Information Infrastructure Protection Act of 1996 with penalties that include years of imprisonment, and many countries have similar laws.