While network time protocol (NTP) amplification attacks have been a threat for many years, a new DDoS surge is ringing alarm bells: in just one month, February 2014, the number of NTP amplification attacks increased 371.43%. The average peak DDoS attack volume increased a staggering 807.48%.
Prolexic/Akamai has issued a high-alert threat advisory warning of the development. It noted that with the current batch of NTP amplification attack toolkits, malicious actors could launch 100 Gbps attacks – or larger – by leveraging just a few vulnerable NTP servers. During the recent spike, average peak DDoS attack bandwidth increased 217.97%.
“During the month of February, we saw the use of NTP amplification attacks surge 371% against our client base,” said Stuart Scholly, senior vice president and general manager of security at Akamai, in astatement. “In fact, the largest attacks we’ve seen on our network this year have all been NTP amplification attacks.”
Unlike the largest attacks of the past two years, the NTP amplification attacks in this case were not focused on any particular sector. Industries targeted by NTP amplification attacks in February included finance, gaming, e-commerce, internet and telecom, media, education, software-as-a-service (SaaS) providers and security.
This attack method has surged in popularity this year, fueled by the availability of new DDoS toolkits that make it simple to generate high-bandwidth, high-volume DDoS attacks against online targets, the firm noted.
In the Prolexic Security Engineering & Response Team (PLXsert) lab environment, simulated NTP amplification attacks produced amplified responses of 300 times or more for attack bandwidth and 50 times for attack volume, making it an extremely dangerous attack method.
The technique leverages NTP servers to overwhelm a victim system with UDP traffic. NTP is used by machines connected to the internet to set their clocks accurately. For example, the clock configuration on a Mac computer is actually the address of an NTP server run by Apple. NTP is widespread, used by not just desktops but also all manner of connected devices to sync their clocks.
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