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How big is 300 Gbps, really?

The 300 Gbps attack this week against SpamHaus certainly seems epic. But how big is it, really? When we think about an attack an Akamai, we think about three things: the attacker’s capacity, their leverage, and the target’s capacity. And when we think about leverage, it’s really comprised of two smaller pieces: how much cost efficiency the attacker expects to get, and how the target’s resilience mitigates it.

300 Gbps isn’t that bad when it’s restricted to reflected DNS traffic - if you have enough capacity to ingest the packets, they’re pretty trivial to drop, and, until your network cards fill up, are less effective than a SYN flood. So why would an attacker resort to such an inefficient attack? The attacker likely doesn’t have 300 Gbps in their botnet - they probably have somewhere in the range of 30 to 60 Gbps. Attacks through DNS resolvers are amplified - so the attacker can create a larger attack than they might have otherwise, at the cost of reducing their leverage.

In comparison the BroBot botnets are routinely tossing around 30 Gbps attacks, with peaks upwards of 80 Gbps. Because they’re willing to sacrifice their hosts, they have a wider range of attacks available to them. Commonly, they send HTTPS request floods - requiring their targets to negotiate full SSL connections, parse an HTTP request, and determine whether they’ll deliver a reply or not. BroBot could certainly throw around a bit more bandwidth with DNS reflection - but against most of their targets, it would have less effect than some of their current tactics.

It’s hard to compare the two. If you have less than 60 Gbps of raw bandwidth lying around, they’re both the same (you’ll succumb either way). If you have more than 60 and less than 300 Gbps, BroBot is more palatable, although you need a lot more CPU to handle it. But above 300Gbps of bandwidth? The attack on SpamHaus is much, much easier to deal with.

Should we bother with security awareness?

Bruce Schneier opines that, “training users in security is generally a waste of time.” Dave Kennedy disagrees, “Education and awareness can be effective if you take the complete opposite view of what Bruce views as an education and awareness program.”

I think that both have interesting points, and where Dave is disagreeing with Bruce, I agree with Dave. Bruce unfortunately skirts around what I think would be his strongest point - that the failures of security design and implementation have led us to require users to take actions that cause them to question our security wisdom - undercutting the awareness benefits we might expect.

Passwords are a good example. Because we still have painful authentication systems, we force users into increasingly complex schemes, rather than building better systems.

Better use of awareness resources is critical, indeed, which is part of Bruce rails about; but more importantly, “patching” design bugs with human workarounds is a sketchy idea.

RSA Keynote


Coping below the Security Poverty Line

On Friday at the RSA Conference, Wendy Nather and I presented on Coping Mechanisms for Living Below the Security Poverty Line. Slides are here. The part of our presentation that seemed to resonate best with the audience was the “What $0 will buy” slide - that is, what “free” options exist to improve security.