Data Centre for Cisco Network Security

Memcached – Newest amplification attack out there

Data Centre for Cisco Network Security

History:

In the last months and years we have seen multiple DDoS attacks based on amplification techniques (DNS, NTP, Chargen, SSDP)

A new amplification attack was spotted in the last week of February (25th – 27th of February).

It is, by far, the strongest amplification attack we had and it is based on the Memcached protocol running on UDP port 11211.

Sources at CloudFlare state the attack reached 257Gbps.

Why the Memcached Protocol?

The answer is simple, it supports UDP which is stateless (which is necessary for amplification attacks), it lacks any form of authentication, and when it turns out it provides excellent ratio in amplification (the difference between the size of the trigger packet and the response).

Amplification ratio in the attack was around x10000 times but the protocol itself is capable of x51200.

The attack stats detected on CloudFlare show UDP datagrams with 1400B size. The number of packets peaked to 23Mpps which measures to the reported total 257Gbps of bandwidth. And that is a lot, it can cause very serious outages.

How does an amplification attack work and how it can be prevented?

To successfully lunch an amplification attack you need 3 components:

  1. Capability to spoof IP packets, meaning access to a high-bandwidth pipe on ISP that does not do a solid job in securing anti-spoofing
  2. Application/Protocol that is amplification friendly – UDP based, no authentication, protocol allowing large responses to be created based on small requests
  3. Reflector servers running a suitable protocol – These are servers that are reachable from Internet and that are going to respond to requests

How does the attack work?

The attackers send a large number of very small requests from a high-bandwidth pipe behind ISP(s), that allow ip spoofing, destined at a large list of publicly accessible application servers. The attacker is spoofing the source IP on all these requests to the target public IP address. All servers are made to respond with much larger packets to the requests, wrongfully directing all that traffic towards the unsuspecting target. The idea is to cripple either the target server/device or to congest its internet pipe, both causing Denial of Service.

How can Amp Attacks be prevented?

If any of the three components outlined above is not available, then there is no way to perform a successful Amplification attack.

Simple steps can make a bit difference.

  1. ISP should always adhere to the strict anti-spoofing rules and allow outbound traffic only from sources belonging to their IP ranges.
  2. Developers should think about security when creating new applications and protocols. UDP should be avoided unless low-latency is needed, and if UDP is used, the protocol should have some form of authentication and should never allow a reply to a request ratio bigger than 1. Meaning all replies should be smaller or equal to the request that generate them.
  3. Administrators should correctly “firewall” their servers and allow access to the services to whomever needs them; and not the whole Internet. Certain types of responses might be blocked from within the application or at Firewall level.

Related articles:

https://blog.cloudflare.com/memcrashed-major-amplification-attacks-from-port-11211/

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