The frequency and strength of Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks is on the rise. Through the exploitation of millions of insecure Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices, the creation of botnets waging highly distributed volumetric attacks is easier and more impactful than ever before. In addition to larger attack volumes, efforts are shifting from the network and transport layers to the application layer (layer 7). Application layer attacks are far more sophisticated, often requiring fewer resources to bring down a website or application, and can disrupt operations with even greater impact.
DDoS attacks disrupt normal business operations by degrading website and application performance and availability, sometimes knocking them offline completely. The average hourly cost of downtime due to an infrastructure failure is $100,000 per hour. Attacks of this nature likely lead to customer churn, brand degradation, and lost business.
Websites and applications require the resilience and intelligence of a scalable network to combat the biggest and newest attacks. Protecting against threats should not degrade performance caused by security induced latencies and security services must be easy to configure to eliminate misconfigurations, which introduce new vulnerabilities.
By disrupting DNS resolution, a DNS flood attack will make a website, API, or web application non-performant or completely unavailable.
An attacker leverages the functionality of open DNS or NTP resolvers to overwhelm a target server or network with amplified request traffic, where the payload size is greater than the size of an originating request.
HTTP flood attacks generate high volumes of HTTP, GET, or POST requests from multiple sources, targeting the application layer, causing service degradation or unavailability.
Cloudflare’s layered security approach combines multiple security capabilities into one service. It prevents disruptions caused by bad traffic, while allowing good traffic through, keeping websites, applications and APIs highly available and performant.
All Cloudflare plans offer unlimited and unmetered mitigation of distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, regardless of the size of attack at no extra cost. No customer should be penalized for spikes in network traffic associated with a distributed attack. Cloudflare DDoS protection ensures all Internet properties stay online, while infrastructure costs remain predictable.
Cloudflare engineers have witnessed some of the largest attacks in history unfold. Learn how we handled them in our developer blog.
In the winter of 2016, Cloudflare mitigated its largest Layer 3 distributed attack to date. Not only was it stopped, but accurately measured and analyzed. Read more
Distributed attacks take all shapes and forms. In this 400Gbps amplification attack, an attacker used 4,529 NTP servers to amplify an attack from a mere 87 Mbps source server.
Cloudflare has been fighting historic distributed attacks for over 7 years. In 2013, the 120 Gbs on Spamhaus was considered a big attack, and Cloudflare was able to keep their website online. Read more
Cloudflare protects all Internet assets on its network, while eliminating security-related performance trade-offs through its suite of performance improving functionalities.
Since Cloudflare serves as a proxy for all of your network traffic, we can protect you from any kind of distributed denial-of-service attack, including all of the following:
Most attacks target the transport and network layers of a communications system. These layers are represented as layers 3 and 4 of the OSI model. The so called “transport” layer of the network stack specifies the protocol (e.g., TCP or UDP) by which two hosts on a network communicate with one another. Attacks directed at layers 3 and 4 are designed to flood a network interface with attack traffic in order to overwhelm its resources and deny it the ability to respond to legitimate traffic. More specifically, attacks of this nature aim to saturate the capacity of a network switch, or overwhelm a server’s network card or its CPU’s ability to handle attack traffic.
Layer 3 and 4 attacks are difficult—if not impossible—to mitigate with an on-premise solution. If an attacker can send more traffic than a network link can handle, no amount of additional hardware resources will help to mitigate such an attack. For example, if you have a router with a 10Gbps port and an attacker sends you 11Gbps of attack traffic, no amount of intelligent software or hardware will allow you to stop the attack if the network link is completely saturated.
Very large layer 3/4 attacks nearly always originate from a number of sources. These many sources each send attack traffic to a single Internet location creating a tidal wave that overwhelms a target’s resources. In this sense, the attack is distributed. The sources of attack traffic can be a group of individuals working together, a botnet of compromised PCs, a botnet of compromised servers, misconfigured DNS resolvers or even home Internet routers with weak passwords.
Because an attacker launching a layer 3/4 attack doesn’t care about receiving a response to the requests they send, the packets that make up the attack do not have to be accurate or correctly formatted. Attackers will regularly spoof all information in the attack packets, including the source IP, making it look as if the attack is coming from a virtually infinite number of sources. As packet data can be fully randomized, even techniques such as upstream IP filtering become virtually useless.
With Cloudflare, all attack traffic that would otherwise directly hit your server infrastructure is automatically routed to Cloudflare’s global Anycast network of data centers. Once attack traffic is shifted, we are able to leverage the significant global capacity of our network, as well as racks-upon-racks of server infrastructure, to absorb the floods of attack traffic at our network edge. This means that Cloudflare is able to prevent even a single packet of attack traffic from a traditional layer 3/4 attack from ever reaching a site protected by Cloudflare.
DNS amplification attacks, one form of DRDoS, are on the rise and have become the largest source of Layer 3/4 attacks. Cloudflare routinely mitigates attacks that exceed 100Gpbs, and recently protected a customer from an attack that exceeded 300Gbps—an attack the New York Times deemed the “largest publicly announced DDoS attack in the history of the Internet.”
In a DNS reflection attack the attacker sends a request for a large DNS zone file—with the source IP address spoofed as the IP address of the intended victim—to a large number of open DNS resolvers. The resolvers then respond to the request, sending the large DNS zone answer to the IP address of the intended victim. The attackers’ requests themselves are only a fraction of the size of the responses, allowing the attacker to amplify their attack to many times the size of the bandwidth resources they themselves control.
An attacker gathers resources, like botnets or unsecured DNS recursors, and imitates the target’s IP address. The resources then send a flood of replies to the target, knocking it offline.
An attacker gathers resources, like botnets or unsecured DNS recursors, and imitates the target’s IP address. The resources then send a flood of replies to the target, but they are blocked regionally by Cloudflare’s data centers. Legitimate traffic can still access the web property.
There are two criterion for an amplification attack: 1.) a query can be sent with a spoofed source address (e.g., via a protocol like ICMP or UDP that does not require a handshake); and 2.) the response to the query is significantly larger than the query itself. DNS is a core, ubiquitous Internet platform that meets these criteria, and therefore has become the largest source of amplification attacks.
DNS queries are typically transmitted over UDP, meaning that, like ICMP queries used in a SMURF attack (described below), they are fire-and-forget. As a result, the source attribute of a DNS query can be spoofed and the receiver has no way of determining its veracity before responding. DNS is also capable of generating a much larger response than query. For example, you can send the following (tiny) query (where x.x.x.x is the IP of an open DNS resolver):
dig ANY isc.org @x.x.x.x +edns=0
And get back the following gigantic response:
<<>> DiG 9.7.3
<<>> ANY isc.org @x.x.x.x
;; global options: +cmd
;; Got answer:
;; ->>HEADER <<- opcode: QUERY, status: NOERROR, id: 5147
;; flags: qr rd ra; QUERY: 1, ANSWER: 27, AUTHORITY: 4, ADDITIONAL: 5
;; QUESTION SECTION:
;isc.org. IN ANY
;; ANSWER SECTION:
isc.org. 4084 IN SOA ns-int.isc.org. hostmaster.isc.org. 2012102700 7200 3600 24796800 3600
isc.org. 4084 IN A 220.127.116.11
isc.org. 4084 IN MX 10 mx.pao1.isc.org.
isc.org. 4084 IN MX 10 mx.ams1.isc.org.
isc.org. 4084 IN TXT "v=spf1 a mx ip4:18.104.22.168/21 ip4:22.214.171.124/16 ip6:2001:04F8::0/32 ip6:2001:500:60::65/128 ~all"
isc.org. 4084 IN TXT "$Id: isc.org,v 1.1724 2012-10-23 00:36:09 bind Exp $"
isc.org. 4084 IN AAAA 2001:4f8:0:2::d
isc.org. 4084 IN NAPTR 20 0 "S" "SIP+D2U" "" _sip._udp.isc.org.
isc.org. 484 IN NSEC _kerberos.isc.org. A NS SOA MX TXT AAAA NAPTR RRSIG NSEC DNSKEY SPF
isc.org. 4084 IN DNSKEY 256 3 5 BQEAAAAB2F1v2HWzCCE9vNsKfk0K8vd4EBwizNT9KO6WYXj0oxEL4eOJ aXbax/BzPFx+3qO8B8pu8E/JjkWH0oaYz4guUyTVmT5Eelg44Vb1kssy q8W27oQ+9qNiP8Jv6zdOj0uCB/N0fxfVL3371xbednFqoECfSFDZa6Hw jU1qzveSsW0=
isc.org. 4084 IN DNSKEY 257 3 5 BEAAAAOhHQDBrhQbtphgq2wQUpEQ5t4DtUHxoMVFu2hWLDMvoOMRXjGr hhCeFvAZih7yJHf8ZGfW6hd38hXG/xylYCO6Krpbdojwx8YMXLA5/kA+ u50WIL8ZR1R6KTbsYVMf/Qx5RiNbPClw+vT+U8eXEJmO20jIS1ULgqy3 47cBB1zMnnz/4LJpA0da9CbKj3A254T515sNIMcwsB8/2+2E63/zZrQz Bkj0BrN/9Bexjpiks3jRhZatEsXn3dTy47R09Uix5WcJt+xzqZ7+ysyL KOOedS39Z7SDmsn2eA0FKtQpwA6LXeG2w+jxmw3oA8lVUgEf/rzeC/bB yBNsO70aEFTd
isc.org. 4084 IN SPF "v=spf1 a mx ip4:126.96.36.199/21 ip4:188.8.131.52/16 ip6:2001:04F8::0/32 ip6:2001:500:60::65/128 ~all"
isc.org. 484 IN RRSIG NS 5 2 7200 20121125230752 20121026230752 4442 isc.org. oFeNy69Pn+/JnnltGPUZQnYzo1YGglMhS/SZKnlgyMbz+tT2r/2v+X1j AkUl9GRW9JAZU+x0oEj5oNAkRiQqK+D6DC+PGdM2/JHa0X41LnMIE2NX UHDAKMmbqk529fUy3MvA/ZwR9FXurcfYQ5fnpEEaawNS0bKxomw48dcp Aco=
isc.org. 484 IN RRSIG SOA 5 2 7200 20121125230752 20121026230752 4442 isc.org. S+DLHzE/8WQbnSl70geMYoKvGlIuKARVlxmssce+MX6DO/J1xdK9xGac XCuAhRpTMKElKq2dIhKp8vnS2e+JTZLrGl4q/bnrrmhQ9eBS7IFmrQ6s 0cKEEyuijumOPlKCCN9QX7ds4siiTIrEOGhCaamEgRJqVxqCsg1dBUrR hKk=
isc.org. 484 IN RRSIG MX 5 2 7200 20121125230752 20121026230752 4442 isc.org. VFqFWRPyulIT8VsIdXKMpMRJTYpdggoGgOjKJzKJs/6ZrxmbJtmAxgEu /rkwD6Q9JwsUCepNC74EYxzXFvDaNnKp/Qdmt2139h/xoZsw0JVA4Z+b zNQ3kNiDjdV6zl6ELtCVDqj3SiWDZhYB/CR9pNno1FAF2joIjYSwiwbS Lcw=
isc.org. 484 IN RRSIG TXT 5 2 7200 20121125230752 20121026230752 4442 isc.org. Ojj8YCZf3jYL9eO8w4Tl9HjWKP3CKXQRFed8s9xeh5TR3KI3tQTKsSeI JRQaCXkADiRwHt0j7VaJ3xUHa5LCkzetcVgJNPmhovVa1w87Hz4DU6q9 k9bbshvbYtxOF8xny/FCiR5c6NVeLmvvu4xeOqSwIpoo2zvIEfFP9deR UhA=
isc.org. 484 IN RRSIG AAAA 5 2 7200 20121125230752 20121026230752 4442 isc.org. hutAcro0NBMvKU/m+2lF8sgIYyIVWORTp/utIn8KsF1WOwwM2QMGa5C9 /rH/ZQBQgN46ZMmiEm4LxH6mtaKxMsBGZwgzUEdfsvVtr+fS5NUoA1rF wg92eBbInNdCvT0if8m1Sldx5/hSqKn8EAscKfg5BMQp5YDFsllsTauA 8Y4=
isc.org. 484 IN RRSIG NAPTR 5 2 7200 20121125230752 20121026230752 4442 isc.org. ZD14qEHR7jVXn5uJUn6XR9Lvt5Pa7YTEW94hNAn9Lm3Tlnkg11AeZiOU 3woQ1pg+esCQepKCiBlplPLcag3LHlQ19OdACrHGUzzM+rnHY50Rn/H4 XQTqUWHBF2Cs0CvfqRxLvAl5AY6P2bb/iUQ6hV8Go0OFvmMEkJOnxPPw 5i4=
isc.org. 484 IN RRSIG NSEC 5 2 3600 20121125230752 20121026230752 4442 isc.org. rY1hqZAryM045vv3bMY0wgJhxHJQofkXLeRLk20LaU1mVTyu7uair7jb MwDVCVhxF7gfRdgu8x7LPSvJKUl6sn731Y80CnGwszXBp6tVpgw6oOcr Pi0rsnzC6lIarXLwNBFmLZg2Aza6SSirzOPObnmK6PLQCdmaVAPrVJQs FHY=
isc.org. 484 IN RRSIG DNSKEY 5 2 7200 20121125230126 20121026230126 4442 isc.org. i0S2MFqvHB3wOhv2IPozE/IQABM/eDDCV2D7dJ3AuOwi1A3sbYQ29XUd BK82+mxxsET2U6hv64crpbGTNJP3OsMxNOAFA0QYphoMnt0jg3OYg+AC L2j92kx8ZdEhxKiE6pm+cFVBHLLLmXGKLDaVnffLv1GQIl5YrIyy4jiw h0A=
isc.org. 484 IN RRSIG DNSKEY 5 2 7200 20121125230126 20121026230126 12892 isc.org. j1kgWw+wFFw01E2z2kXq+biTG1rrnG1XoP17pIOToZHElgpy7F6kEgyj fN6e2C+gvXxOAABQ+qr76o+P+ZUHrLUEI0ewtC3v4HziMEl0Z2/NE0MH qAEdmEemezKn9O1EAOC7gZ4nU5psmuYlqxcCkUDbW0qhLd+u/8+d6L1S nlrD/vEi4R1SLl2bD5VBtaxczOz+2BEQLveUt/UusS1qhYcFjdCYbHqF JGQziTJv9ssbEDHT7COc05gG+A1Av5tNN5ag7QHWa0VE+Ux0nH7JUy0N ch1kVecPbXJVHRF97CEH5wCDEgcFKAyyhaXXh02fqBGfON8R5mIcgO/F DRdXjA==
isc.org. 484 IN RRSIG SPF 5 2 7200 20121125230752 20121026230752 4442 isc.org. IB/bo9HPjr6aZqPRkzf9bXyK8TpBFj3HNQloqhrguMSBfcMfmJqHxKyD ZoLKZkQk9kPeztau6hj2YnyBoTd0zIVJ5fVSqJPuNqxwm2h9HMs140r3 9HmbnkO7Fe+Lu5AD0s6+E9qayi3wOOwunBgUkkFsC8BjiiGrRKcY8GhC kak=
isc.org. 484 IN RRSIG A 5 2 7200 20121125230752 20121026230752 4442 isc.org. ViS+qg95DibkkZ5kbL8vCBpRUqI2/M9UwthPVCXl8ciglLftiMC9WUzq Ul3FBbri5CKD/YNXqyvjxyvmZfkQLDUmffjDB+ZGqBxSpG8j1fDwK6n1 hWbKf7QSe4LuJZyEgXFEkP16CmVyZCTITUh2TNDmRgsoxrvrOqOePWhp 8+E=
isc.org. 4084 IN NS ns.isc.afilias-nst.info.
isc.org. 4084 IN NS ams.sns-pb.isc.org.
isc.org. 4084 IN NS ord.sns-pb.isc.org.
isc.org. 4084 IN NS sfba.sns-pb.isc.org.
;; AUTHORITY SECTION:
isc.org. 4084 IN NS ns.isc.afilias-nst.info.
isc.org. 4084 IN NS ams.sns-pb.isc.org.
isc.org. 4084 IN NS ord.sns-pb.isc.org.
isc.org. 4084 IN NS sfba.sns-pb.isc.org.
;; ADDITIONAL SECTION:
mx.ams1.isc.org. 484 IN A 184.108.40.206
mx.ams1.isc.org. 484 IN AAAA 2001:500:60::65
mx.pao1.isc.org. 484 IN A 220.127.116.11
mx.pao1.isc.org. 484 IN AAAA 2001:4f8:0:2::2b
_sip._udp.isc.org. 4084 IN SRV 0 1 5060 asterisk.isc.org.
;; Query time: 176 msec
;; SERVER: x.x.x.x#53(x.x.x.x)
;; WHEN: Tue Oct 30 01:14:32 2012
;; MSG SIZE rcvd: 3223
That’s a 64 byte query that resulted in a 3,223 byte response. In other words, an attacker is able to achieve a 50x amplification over whatever traffic they can initiate to an open DNS resolver.
Cloudflare’s “Anycast” network was specifically designed to stop massive layer 3/4 attacks. By using Anycast, we are able to announce the same IP addresses from each of our 118 worldwide data centers. The network itself load balances requests to the nearest facility. Under normal circumstances this helps us ensure that your site’s visitors are automatically routed to the nearest data center on our network to ensure the best performance. When there is an attack, Anycast serves to effectively scatter and dilute attack traffic across our entire network of datacenters. Because every data center announces the same IP address for any Cloudflare customer, traffic cannot be directed to any one location. Instead of the attack being many-to-one, it becomes many-to-many with no single point on the network a single point of failure.
A new breed of attacks target Layer 7 of the OSI model, the “application” layer. These attacks focus on specific characteristics of web applications that create bottlenecks. For example, the so-called Slow Read attack sends packets slowly across multiple connections. Because Apache opens a new thread for each connection, and since connections are maintained as long as there is traffic being sent, an attacker can overwhelm a web server by exhausting its thread pool relatively quickly.
Cloudflare has protections in place against many of these attacks, and in real world experiences we generally reduce HTTP attack traffic by 90%. For most attacks, and for most of our customers, this is enough to keep them online. However, the 10% of traffic that does get through traditional protections can still be overwhelming to customers with limited resources or in the face of very large attacks. In this case, Cloudflare offers a security setting called “I’m Under Attack” mode (IUAM).
IUAM is a security level you can set for your site when you’re under attack. When IUAM is turned on, Cloudflare will add an additional layer of protections to stop malicious HTTP traffic from being passed to your server. While a number of additional checks are performed in the background, an interstitial page is presented to your site’s visitors for 5 seconds while the checks are completed. Think of it as a challenge where the tests are automatic and visitors never need to fill in a CAPTCHA.
One of the first amplification attacks was known as a SMURF attack. In a SMURF attack an attacker sends ICMP requests (i.e., ping requests) to a network’s broadcast address (i.e., X.X.X.255) announced from a router configured to relay ICMP to all devices behind the router. The attacker then spoofs the source of the ICMP request to be the IP address of the intended victim. Because ICMP does not include a handshake, the destination has no means of verifying if the source IP is legitimate. The router receives the request and passes it on to all the devices that sit behind it. Each of these devices then respond back to the ping. The attacker is able to amplify the attack by a multiple equal to the number of devices behind the router (i.e., if you have 5 devices behind the router then the attacker is able to amplify the attack 5x, see the diagram below).
SMURF attacks are largely a thing of the past. For the most part, network operators have configured their routers to disable the relay of ICMP requests sent to a network’s broadcast address.