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Phlooding attack could leave enterprises high and dry

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You've got to hand it to the IT security industry for its ability to coin new and impressive sounding terms for security threats. Hot on the hells of WiPhishing and Evil Twins comes the latest buzz word for wireless Lan security: phlooding.

Phlooding involves a "group of simultaneous but geographically distributed attacks that targets a business's authentication or network log-in structure, with the goal of overloading its central authentication server," according to wireless security firm AirMagnet, which coined the term.

Attackers in different locations would bombard wireless access points (APs) with login requests using multiple password combinations which could slow down logins and potentially interfere with broader network operations. AirMagnet reckons businesses with multiple office locations served by a single identity management server could be particularly vulnerable to phlooding attacks.

The scenario is plausible as a way of launching denial of service attacks preventing the internal operations of a firm. But even AirMagnet admits the threat ought not to be overstated. Rich Mironov, VP of marketing at AirMagnet, said it had been aware of the possibility of the attack vector for some time but it recently uncovered evidence from security logs showing attacks based on a flood of authentication requests characteristic of phlooding. "We've seen this in the case of two unsuccessful attacks. In both cases we're not sure it was a Phlooding attack but we have a strong suspicion," Mironov explained.

Mironov said attackers would need to be in physical range of a corporate network to launch phlooding attacks adding that other wireless security risks present more likely methods of attack. "People should not lose sleep over phlooding. The vast majority of WiFi security problems remain self-inflicted. Using WiFi networks without a personal firewall, failure to configure systems or leaving Windows PCs in ad-hoc networking mode are the most common problems we see," he said.

Like the 'evil twins' risk of earlier this year phlooding is probably a well understood risk given a catchy moniker, backed by an energetic marketing campaign. There's nothing wrong with that and it certainly brightens up news of AirMagent's latest security software. AirMagnet Enterpriser version 6, a new version of its AirMagnet's wireless intrusion prevention system, includes wireless event correlation and detection methods designed to identify clusters of attacks that indicate phlooding and similar exploits are underway. ®

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