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Targeted attacks to add to ISP woes

As if brute-force DDoS assaults weren't enough

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Hacking attacks are growing more sophisticated and more prevalent, with hard-pressed ISPs facing a wider range of threats.

The large-brute force denial of service attacks of yesteryear have been joined by service-level and application-targeted attacks, DNS poisoning and route hijacking assaults that are more difficult to deal with, according to a study by security tools vendor Arbor Networks. Assaults of this type can cause significant disruption even if their traffic volumes - less than 100mbps - remain modest.

These next-generation attacks are harder to defend against than old-fashioned flood-based attacks because it's necessary to drill down deeper into packets to detect malign traffic.

"Providers need to have deep application insight into IP services and applications – such as DNS, HTTP, VoIP, IM and P2P – in order to identify, and mitigate such attacks. To do so effectively, ISPs today must have the ability to detect and surgically remove only the attack traffic while maintaining legitimate business traffic," explained Danny McPherson, chief security officer for Arbor Networks, and author of the firm's annual study of attack trends.

The fourth edition of Arbor’s Worldwide Infrastructure Security Report, published on Tuesday, pools responses from around 70 ISPs in North America, South America, Europe and Asia, notes that brute force attacks remain a problem. Attacks of this type designed to make websites too busy to deal with legitimate users pulled in at maximum rates of up to 40Gbps over the last 12 months.

The largest sustained attacks reach 24Gbps this year compared to 17Gbps last year, an increase of two-thirds (67 per cent). A third of the ISP participants in Arbor's survey saw sustained attacks of more than one Gbps. Attack growth rates are increasing faster than the growth in the transmission capacity of networks, according to Arbor.

Botnets - networks of compromised computers - continue to be the biggest single headache for network operators. One in four network operators (26 per cent) quizzed by Arbor said that zombies were the bane of their life but DNS cache poisoning (23 per cent) and BGP route hijacking (15 per cent) were also mentioned by a significant minority as their worst security problem. Concerns about DNS cache poisoning follow the discovery of a high-profile flaw in this area by Dan Kaminsky earlier this year.

Looking ahead, the majority of respondents to the survey reckon that the long-awaited rollout of IPv6 will prove to be a security headache. Attacks on VoIP systems are also expected to prove a worry, but many operators don't yet defend against the looming threat, with a scant one in five reporting (21 per cent) reporting the installation of attack mitigation tools.

Arbor's report unsurprisingly reveals that many web-based firms are facing increasing cost and revenue pressure during a time of global economic slowdown. Many organisations have responded to these challenges by making greater use of managed security service, it notes.

The latest edition of Arbor's Worldwide Infrastructure Security Report can be found here (registration required). ®

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