COVID-19 Shows the Importance of Protecting Availability

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The ongoing effects of the coronavirus crisis are having a devastating impact on businesses worldwide. Whereas some industries are on the verge of collapse, other industries are experiencing sudden and exponential growth in demand for their services – and in turn, from their computing infrastructure.

If you’ve tried to use video conferencing, consult with your doctor remotely, or fill-out a government online application, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

No Rest from the Wicked

Sadly, this difficult time offers no reprieve from cybercriminals, who are using this crisis as an opportunity to attack critical infrastructure.

Some examples from the past few weeks include:

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At a time when customers, patients and citizens depend on the availability of critical services, attacks such as these emphasize the importance of safeguarding critical infrastructure, and in particular, guaranteeing availability during times of crisis.

Protecting Against DDoS Without Blocking Customers

One of the key tenets in guaranteeing service availability is protecting against distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, such as the ones mentioned above.

The challenge, however, is that DDoS protection requires answering a fundamental question: How do you block malicious traffic without blocking legitimate users?

Addressing this fundamental challenge is crucial, particularly in times such as the current crisis, when mission-critical applications are facing a surge of users who are in urgent need of their services.

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Smart DDoS Protection During COVID-19 Crisis

Behavioral detection

As the spikes in traffic for video conferencing software, telemedicine services, and governmental websites demonstrate, organizations need a way of distinguishing between malicious traffic and legitimate traffic spikes.

The problem, however, is that looking just at raw traffic rates doesn’t tell us whether that traffic is legitimate or malicious. For example, the screenshot below compares a flash crows with a TCP RST Flood.

Using just a rate analysis, both requests look the same. However, a more detailed behavioral analysis of the packet behavior shows significant deviations of the malicious traffic from the established baseline of legitimate user behavior.


Figure 1: Rate analysis vs. behavioral traffic analysis

This is why it is crucial for anti-DDoS defenses to utilize not just volume-based detection, but also behavioral-based detection methods. In times of massive flash crowds, this is the only way of truly distinguishing between an attacker and a patient in need.

[You may also like: COVID-19: The Rise of the Telecommuter & the Impacts on Businesses]

Real-time signature

Albert Einstein said that “everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Paraphrasing that to the world of DDoS protection, it means attack signatures should be tailored to the exact characteristics of incoming attack traffic, but cover no more or less.

Apply a signature too narrowly, and it means that no attack traffic will be stopped; apply a signature that is too broad, and legitimate user traffic will be blocked, as well.

Traditional DDoS defenses are frequently based on rate limiting of incoming traffic, which reduces overall traffic volumes to a level that the service can withstand. The problem, however, is that rate limiting is a brute-force mechanism, which “caps off” traffic arbitrarily, but does not distinguish between legitimate and malicious traffic. This results in high degrees of false-positives, leading to legitimate users being blocked, while some malicious traffic still gets through.

A better approach uses real-time signature creation algorithms which are fine-tuned and optimized to the exact characteristics of attack patterns, meaning that malicious traffic – and only malicious traffic – will be blocked, while legitimate users, patients and customers will not be interrupted.

Figure 2: custom-tailored signatures vs. rate limiting

Encrypted attack protection

As more and more web traffic is encrypted, protection against encrypted floods is a critical requirement for modern DDoS protection. According to Google’s HTTPS Transparency Report, over 90% of web pages in almost all major markets are now encrypted by HTTPS.

This is especially applicable during the time of the coronavirus crisis, when many people are working remotely and share confidential financial details, work materials or patient data over secured connections.

Ironically, while HTTPS is crucial for data protection, it also opens the door for a new breed of devastating DDoS attacks. HTTPS is a highly asymmetric protocol, and the SSL handshake process may take as much as 15 times more resources from the target server than from the host making the request. As a result, hackers can use HTTPS floods to create devastating attacks with a relatively small number of requests.

This is why protection against encrypted DDoS floods is a critical requirement for modern DDoS protection.

Massive global capacity

Another critical requirement to safeguard the availability of critical services is massive, dedicated DDoS mitigation capacity.

IoT botnets are constantly getting larger and more sophisticated, and are capable of launching larger attacks than ever. For example, a recent study by researchers at Ben Gurion University (BGU) in Israel showed how a mid-sized botnet with as few as 6,000 nodes can bring down the emergency 911 system of an average US state, and how 200,000 bots can jeopardize the entire United States.

Naturally, such vulnerabilities are critical during a massive public health emergency such as the COVID-19 crisis.

[You may also like: Coronavirus: Its Four Most Prevalent Cyber Threats]

The solution to that is relying on a globally-distributed DDoS scrubbing network with multi-terabit, dedicated capacity for DDoS mitigation, to guarantee you always have enough fallback capacity.

Managed security service

Finally, the last critical requirement for modern DDoS protection is a fully-managed security service. Staff shortages and the cybersecurity skill-gap are crucial problems on a routine basis, but these challenges are exacerbated during this time of crisis, when IT teams are overextended, many employees are working from home, and some might even be affected by lock downs, isolation, or hospitalization.

Using a fully-managed security service for DDoS protection helps take the burden off your shoulders by relying on teams of experts for whom network and application security is their expertise. This enables IT teams to free-up their bandwidth to focus on their core tasks, and leave security management to the experts.

Download Radware’s “Hackers Almanac” to learn more.

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Eyal is a Product Marketing Manager in Radware’s security group, responsible for the company’s line of cloud security products, including Cloud WAF, Cloud DDoS, and Cloud Malware Protection. Eyal has extensive background in security, having served in the Israel Defense Force (IDF) at an elite technological unit. Prior to joining Radware, Eyal worked in Product Management and Product Marketing roles at a number of companies in the enterprise computing and security space, both on the small scale startup side, as well as large-scale corporate end, affording him a wide view of the industry. Eyal holds a BA in Management from the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya and a MBA from the UCLA Anderson School of Management.

8 COMMENTS

  1. The problem is, taking down a stresser service is pointless when there are so many criminals using public services and corporations to mask their identities. Until there is cooperation and commitment to removing the DDoS threat completely, it will always linger, rearing its nasty head in the worst moments. Due to the lack of commitment between the global law enforcement community and the security community, we are unable to see a meaningful impact in the DDoS landscape.
    – Daniel Smith

  2. Great article! Multi and hybrid cloud will help accelerate digital transformation, driving R&D to propel more remarkable technologies into the mainstream. But the risk of IP thefts, server hacks and ransomware attacks are higher in this time of chaos and budget crisis. IT teams of the organisations will have to remind employees of the types of information that they need to safeguard on their personal computers, as they work remotely. Password functions need to be put off, when employees are getting into company information systems and applications from their own devices.

  3. But the truth is that while these steps have been effective in the past, DDoS attacks are now usually too large for these measures to be able to stop a DDoS attack completely. Again, the most you can hope for is that they will buy you a little time as a DDoS attack ramps up.
    Cheer up because there are a lot of available counter measures now a days for these kind of attacks.

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