So it’s fair to say that Roland is not a shy lad. Formerly at Cisco and now at Arbor, he’s made his position (and likely his living) on dealing with a rather unpleasant issue in the highly distributed and networked InterTubes: Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks.
A recent article in ITWire titled “DDoS, the biggest threat to Cloud Computing” sums up Roland’s focus:
“According to Roland Dobbins, solutions architect for network security specialist Arbor Networks, distributed denial of service attacks are one of the must under-rated and ill-guarded against security threats to corporate IT, and in particular the biggest threat facing cloud computing.”
DDOS, Dobbins claims, is largely ignored in many discussions around network and cloud computing security. “Most discussions around cloud security are centred around privacy, confidentially, the separation of data from the application logic, but the security elephant in the room that very few people seem to want to talk about is DDOS. This is the number one security threat facing the cloud model,” he told last week’s Ausnog conference in Sydney.
“In cloud computing where infrastructure is shared by potentially millions of users, DDOS attacks have the potential to have much greater impact than against single tenanted architectures,” Dobbins argues. Yet, he says, “The cloud providers emerging as leaders don’t tend to talk much about their resiliency to DDOS attacks.”
Depending upon where you stand, especially if we’re talking about Public Clouds — and large Public Cloud providers such as Google, Amazon, Microsoft, etc. — you might cock your head to one side, raise an eyebrow and focus on the sentence fragment “…and in particular the biggest threat facing cloud computing.” One of the reasons DDoS is under-appreciated is because in relative frequency — and in the stable of solutions and skill sets to deal with them — DDoS is a long tail event.
With unplanned outages afflicting almost all major Cloud providers today, the moose on the table seems to be good ol’ internal operational issues at the moment…that’s not to say it won’t become a bigger problem as the models for networked Cloud resources changes, but as the model changes, so will the defensive options in the stable.
With the decentralization of data but the mass centralization of data centers featured by these large Cloud providers, one might see how this statement could strike fear into the hearts of potential Cloud consumers everywhere and Roland is doing his best to serve us a warning — a Public (denial of) service announcement.
Sadly, at this point, however, I’m not convinced that DDoS is “the biggest threat facing Cloud Computing” and whilst providers may not “…talk much about their resiliency to DDoS attacks,” some of that may likely be due to the fact that they don’t talk much about security at all. It also may be due to the fact that in many cases, what we can do to respond to these attacks is directly proportional to the size of your wallet.
Large network and service providers have been grappling with DDoS for years, so have large enterprises. Folks like Roland have been on the front lines.
Cloud will certainly amplify the issues of DDoS because of how resources — even when distributed and resiliently load balanced in elastic and “perceptively infinitely scalable” ways — are ultimately organized, offered and consumed. This is a valid point.
But if we look at the heart of most criminal elements exploiting the Internet today (and what will become Cloud,) you’ll find that the great majority want — no, *need* — victims to be available. If they’re not, there’s no exploiting them. DDoS is blunt force trauma — with big, messy, bloody blows that everybody notices. That’s simply not very good for business.
At the end of the day, I think DDoS is important to think about. I think variations of DDoS are, too.
I think that most service providers are thinking about it and investing in technology from companies such as Cisco and Arbor to deal with it, but as Roland points out, most enterprises are not — and if Cloud has its way, they shouldn’t have to:
Paradoxically, although Dobbins sees DDOS as the greatest threat to cloud computing, he also sees it as the potential solution for organisations grappling with the complexities of securing the network infrastructure.
“One answer is to get rid of all IT systems and hand them over to an organisation that specialises in these things. If the cloud providers are following best practice and have the visibility to enable them to exert control over their networks it is possible for organisation to outsource everything to them.”
For those organisations that do run their own data centres, he suggests they can avail themselves of ‘clean pipe’ services which protect against DDOS attacks According to Nick Race, head of Arbor Networks Australia, Telstra, Optus and Nextgen Networks all offer such services.
So what about you? Moose on the table or pea under the mattress?