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Alert (TA14-017A)

UDP-based Amplification Attacks

Original release date: January 17, 2014 | Last revised: March 07, 2014

Systems Affected

Certain UDP protocols have been identified as potential attack vectors:

  • DNS
  • NTP
  • SNMPv2
  • NetBIOS
  • SSDP
  • CharGEN
  • QOTD
  • BitTorrent
  • Kad
  • Quake Network Protocol
  • Steam Protocol

Overview

A Distributed Reflective Denial of Service (DRDoS) attack is an emerging form of Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) that relies on the use of publicly accessible UDP servers, as well as bandwidth amplification factors, to overwhelm a victim system with UDP traffic.

Description

UDP, by design, is a connection-less protocol that does not validate source IP addresses.  Unless the application-layer protocol uses countermeasures such as session initiation, it is very easy to forge the IP packet datagram to include an arbitrary source IP address [7].  When many UDP packets have their source IP address forged to a single address, the server responds to that victim, creating a reflected Denial of Service (DoS) Attack.

Recently, certain UDP protocols have been found to have particular responses to certain commands that are much larger than the initial request.  Where before, attackers were limited linearly by the number of packets directly sent to the target to conduct a DoS attack, now a single packet can generate tens or hundreds of times the bandwidth in its response.  This is called an amplification attack, and when combined with a reflective DoS attack on a large scale it makes it relatively easy to conduct DDoS attacks.  

To measure the potential effect of an amplification attack, we use a metric called the bandwidth amplification factor (BAF).  BAF can be calculated as the number of UDP payload bytes that an amplifier sends to answer a request, compared to the number of UDP payload bytes of the request [9] [10].

The list of known protocols, and their associated bandwidth amplification factors, is listed below.  US-CERT would like to offer thanks to Christian Rossow for providing this information to us.  For more information on bandwith amplificatication factors, please see Christian's blog and associated research paper.

ProtocolBandwidth Amplification FactorVulnerable Command
DNS28 to 54see: TA13-088A [1]
NTP556.9see: TA14-013A [2]
SNMPv26.3GetBulk request
NetBIOS3.8Name resolution
SSDP30.8SEARCH request
CharGEN358.8Character generation request
QOTD140.3Quote request
BitTorrent3.8File search
Kad16.3Peer list exchange
Quake Network Protocol63.9Server info exchange
Steam Protocol5.5Server info exchange

 

Impact

Attackers can utilize the bandwidth and relative trust of large servers that provide the above UDP protocols to flood victims with unwanted traffic, a DDoS attack.

Solution

DETECTION

Detection of DRDoS attacks is not easy, due to their use of large, trusted servers that provide UDP services.  As a victim, traditional DoS mitigation techniques may apply.

As a network operator of one of these exploitable services, look for abnormally large responses to a particular IP address.  This may indicate that an attacker is using your service to conduct a DRDoS attack.

MITIGATION

Source IP Verification

Because the UDP requests being sent by the attacker-controlled clients must have a source IP address spoofed to appear as the victim’s IP, the first step to reducing the effectiveness of UDP amplification is for Internet Service Providers to reject any UDP traffic with spoofed addresses. The Network Working Group of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) released Best Current Practice 38 document in May 2000 and Best Current Practice 84 in March 2004 that describes how an Internet Service Provider can filter network traffic on their network to reject packets with source addresses not reachable via the actual packet’s path [3][4].  The changes recommended in these documents would cause a routing device to evaluate whether it is possible to reach the source IP address of the packet via the interface that transmitted the packet. If it is not possible, then the packet most likely has a spoofed source IP address. This configuration change would substantially reduce the potential for most popular types of DDoS attacks. As such, we highly recommend to all network operators to perform network ingress filtering if possible.  Note that it will not explicitly protect a UDP service provider from being exploited in a DRDoS (all network providers must use ingress filtering in order to completely eliminate the threat).

To verify your network has implemented ingress filtering, download the open source tools from the Spoofer Project [5].

Traffic Shaping

Limiting responses to UDP requests is another potential mitigation to this issue.  This may require testing to discover the optimal limit that does not interfere with legitimate traffic.  The IETF released Request for Comment 2475 and Request for Comment 3260 that describes some methods to shape and control traffic [6] [8].  Most network devices today provide these functions in their software. 

References

Revisions

  • February 09, 2014 - Initial Release
  • March 07, 2014 - Updated page to include research links

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