Archive for the ‘EDoS’ Category

DDoS – A Moose On Cloud’s Table Or A Pea Under The Mattress?

September 7th, 2009 7 comments

DDoSReaders of my blog will no doubt be familiar with Roland Dobbins.  He’s commented on lots of posts here and whilst we don’t always see eye-to-eye, I really respect both his intellect and his style.

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?


A Couple Of Follow-Ups On The EDoS (Economic Denial Of Sustainability) Concept…

January 23rd, 2009 25 comments

I wrote about the notion of EDoS (Economic Denial Of Sustainability) back in November.  You can find the original blog post here.

The basic premise of the concept was the following:

I had a thought about how the utility and agility of the cloud
computing models such as Amazon AWS (EC2/S3) and the pricing models
that go along with them can actually pose a very nasty risk to those
who use the cloud to provide service.

thought got me noodling about how the pay-as-you-go model could
be used for nefarious means.

Specifically, this
usage-based model potentially enables $evil_person who knows that a
service is cloud-based to manipulate service usage billing in orders of
magnitude that could be disguised easily as legitimate use of the
service but drive costs to unmanageable levels. 

If you take Amazon's AWS usage-based pricing model (check out the cost calculator here,) one might envision that instead of worrying about a lack of resources, the
elasticity of the cloud could actually provide a surplus of compute,
network and storage utility that could be just as bad as a deficit.

of worrying about Distributed Denial of Service (DDos) attacks from
botnets and the like, imagine having to worry about delicately
balancing forecasted need with capabilities like Cloudbursting to deal
with a botnet designed to make seemingly legitimate requests for
service to generate an economic denial of sustainability (EDoS) –
where the dyamicism of the infrastructure allows scaling of service
beyond the economic means of the vendor to pay their cloud-based
service bills.

At any rate, here are a couple of interesting related items:

  1. Wei Yan, a threat researcher for Trend Micro, recently submitted an IEEE journal submission titled "Anti-Virus In-the-Cloud Service: Are We Ready for the Security Evolution?" in which he discusses and interesting concept for cloud-based AV and also cites/references my EDoS concept.  Thanks, Wei!
  2. There is a tangential story making the rounds recently about how researcher Brett O'Connor has managed to harness Amazon's EC2 to harvest/host/seed BitTorrent files.

    The relevant quote from the story that relates to EDoS is really about the visibility (or lack thereof) as to how cloud networks in their abstraction are being used and how the costs associated with that use might impact the cloud providers themselves.  Remember, the providers have to pay for the infrastructure even if the "consumers" do not:

    "This means, says Hobson, that hackers and other interested parties can
    simply use a prepaid (and anonymous) debit card to pay the $75 a month
    fee to Amazon and harvest BitTorrent applications at high speed with
    little or no chance of detection…

    It's not clear that O'Connor's clever work-out represents anything new
    in principle, but it does raise the issue of how cloud computing
    providers plan to monitor and manage what their services are being used

It's likely we'll see additional topics that relate to EDoS soon.

UPDATE: Let me try and give a clear example that differentiates EDoS from DDoS in a cloud context, although ultimately the two concepts are related:

DDoS (and DoS for that matter) attacks are blunt force trauma. The goal, regardless of motive, is to overwhelm infrastructure and remove from service a networked target by employing a distributed number of $evil_doers.  Example: a botnet is activated to swarm/overwhelm an Internet connected website using an asynchronous attack which makes the site unavailable due to an exhaustion of resources (compute, network or storage.)

EDoS attacks are death by 1000 cuts.  EDoS can also utilize distributed $evil_doers as well as single entities, but works by making legitimate web requests at volumes that may appear to be "normal" but are done so to drive compute, network and storage utility billings in a cloud model abnormally high.  Example: a botnet is ativated to visit a website whose income results from ecommerce purchases.  The requests are all legitimate but the purchases never made.  The vendor has to pay the cloud provider for increased elastic use of resources where revenue was never recognized to offset them.

We have anti-DDoS capabilities today with tools that are quite mature.  DDoS is generally easy to spot given huge increases in traffic.  EDoS attacks are not necessarily easy to detect, because the instrumentation and busines logic is not present in most applications or stacks of applications and infrastructure to provide the correlation between "requests" and " successful transactions."  In the example above, increased requests may look like normal activity.

Given the attractiveness of startups and SME/SMB's to the cloud for cost and agility, this presents a problem  The SME/SMB customers do not generally invest in this sort of integration, the cloud computing platform providers generally do not have the intelligence and visibility into these applications which they do not own, and typical DDoS tools don't, either.

So DDoS and EDoS ultimately can end with the same outcome: the target whithers and ceases to be able to offer service, but I think that EDoS is something significant that should be discussed and investigated.