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Targeted attacks replace botnet floods in telco nightmares

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Targeted attacks against backend systems have replaced botnet-powered traffic floods as the main concerns for security staff at telcos and large ISPs.

Only one in five of the 132 senior telco security experts quizzed by DDoS security and network management specialists Arbor Networks reported the largest attacks they observed as lying within the one-to-four Gbps range last year, compared to 30 per cent in 2008. The most potent DDoS attacks recorded in 2009 hit 49Gbps, a relatively modest 22 per cent rise from the 40Gbps peak reached in 2008.

Although botnet-enabled DDoS attacks the top operational threats faced by the network operators surveyed by Arbor this may change in future. One in three (35 per cent) of security managers at ISPs and telcos across the world quizzed by Arbor reckoned more sophisticated service and application-layer attacks are the biggest threat they face over the coming year.

By comparison, 21 per cent thought large-scale botnet attacks would be their single biggest problem during 2010.

Service level attacks, while also driven from compromised networks of zombie PCs, are designed to exploit service weaknesses, like back-end database flaws rather than simply flooding a site with more traffic than it can handle.

Several of the senior techies quizzed by Arbor reported prolonged (multi-hour) outages of prominent internet services last year as a result of application-level attacks. Systems targeted included distributed domain name system (DNS) rigs, load balancers and SQL server back-end infrastructures.

IPv6 unready

The latest edition of Arbor's Worldwide Infrastructure Security Report reveals that networking operators are wrestling with the simultaneous roll-out of multiple new technologies.

Looming IPv4 address exhaustion is finally forcing a migration towards IPv6 while security concerns are pushing plans to roll out DNS Security Extensions (DNS SEC). Together the introduction of the technologies represents major architectural changes for the internet at a time when service providers are also facing up to a skills shortage.

As in previous years, telco techies complained of missing IPv6 security features in routers, firewalls and other critical network infrastructure building blocks. Others expressed concerns about the lack of IPv6 testing and deployment experience that may result in costly technology introduction cock-ups.

IPv6 traffic accounts for 0.03 per cent of all net traffic, a significant increase of 0.002 per cent a year earlier, but still only a tiny fraction of aggregate internet traffic, according to Arbor.

A summary covering the main themes of the Arbor's survey can be found in a blog entry here. The complete full-fat version of the report is here (pdf). ®

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