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Dispersing a DDoS: Initial Thoughts on DDoS Protection

Russ White

Distributed Denial of Service is a big deal — huge pools of Internet of Things (IoT) devices, such as security cameras, are compromised by botnets and being used for large scale DDoS attacks. What are the tools in hand to fend these attacks off? The first misconception is that you can actually fend off a DDoS attack. There is no magical tool you can deploy that will allow you to go to sleep every night thinking, "tonight my network will not be impacted by a DDoS attack." There are tools and services that deploy various mechanisms that will do the engineering and work for you, but there is no solution for DDoS attacks.

One such reaction tool is spreading the attack. In the network below, the network under attack has six entry points.

Assume the attacker has IoT devices scattered throughout AS65002 which they are using to launch an attack. Due to policies within AS65002, the DDoS attack streams are being forwarded into AS65001, and thence to A and B. It would be easy to shut these two links down, forcing the traffic to disperse across five entries rather than two (B, C, D, E, and F). By splitting the traffic among five entry points, it may be possible to simply eat the traffic — each flow is now less than one-half the size of the original DDoS attack, perhaps within the range of the servers at these entry points to discard the DDoS traffic.

However — this kind of response plays into the attacker's hand, as well. Now any customer directly attached to AS65001, such as G, will need to pass through AS65002, from whence the attacker has launched the DDoS, and enter into the same five entry points. How happy do you think the customer at G would be in this situation? Probably not very

Is there another option? Instead of shutting down these two links, it would make more sense to try to reduce the volume of traffic coming through the links and leave them up. To put it more shortly — if the DDoS attack is reducing the total amount of available bandwidth you have at the edge of your network, it does not make a lot of sense to reduce the available amount of bandwidth at your edge in response. What you want to do, instead, is reapportion the traffic coming into each edge so you have a better chance of allowing the existing servers to simply discard the DDoS attack.

One possible solution is to prepend the AS path of the anycast address being advertised from one of the service instances. Here, you could add one prepend to the route advertisement from C, and check to see if the attack traffic is spread more evenly across the three sites. However, this isn't always an effective solution (see When prepend fails, what next? Part One, Two & Three). Of course, if this is an anycast service, we can't really break up the address space into smaller bits. So what else can be done?

There is a way to do this with BGP — using communities to restrict the scope of the routes being advertised by A and B. For instance, you could begin by advertising the routes to the destinations under attack towards AS65001 with the NO_PEER community. Given that AS65002 is a transit AS (assume it is for this exercise), AS65001 would accept the routes from A and B, but would not advertise them towards AS65002. This means G would still be able to reach the destinations behind A and B through AS65001, but the attack traffic would still be dispersed across five entry points, rather than two. There are other mechanisms you could use here; specifically, some providers allow you to set a community that tells them not to advertise a route towards a specific AS, whether than AS is a peer or a customer. You should consult with your provider about this, as every provider uses a different set of communities, formatted in slightly different ways — your provider will probably point you to a web page explaining their formatting.

If NO_PEER does not work, it is possible to use NO_ADVERTISE, which blocks the advertisement of the destinations under attack to any of AS65001's connections of whatever kind. G may well still be able to use the connections to A and B from AS65001 if it is using a default route to reach the Internet at large.

It is, of course, to automate this reaction through a set of scripts — but as always, it is important to keep a short leash on such scripts. Humans need to be alerted to either make the decision to use these communities or to continue using these communities; it is too easy for a false positive to lead to a real problem.

Of course, this sort of response is also not possible for networks with just one or two connection points to the Internet.

But in all cases, remember that shutting down links the face of DDoS is rarely ever a real solution. You do not want to be reducing your available bandwidth when you are under attack specifically designed to exhaust available bandwidth (or other resources). Rather, if you can, find a way to disperse the attack.

By Russ White, Network Architect at LinkedIn
Related topics: Cyberattack, Cybersecurity, DDoS, Networks
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Promoted Post

Buying or Selling IPv4 Addresses?

Watch this video to discover how ACCELR/8, a transformative trading platform developed by industry veterans Marc Lindsey and Janine Goodman, enables organizations to buy or sell IPv4 blocks as small as /20s.