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Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks are increasing plaguing the Internet since their first big appearance against Yahoo in the year 2000. Using thousands of compromised slave/zombie machines, DDoS attacks are capable of attacking and tearing down the Internet's backbone thus forcing all communication across it to a grinding halt. The early DDoS attacks started as "Script Kiddie pranks", has now evolved to an organized digital crime, targeting networks of government and business establishments, with motives ranging from defamation to extortion. This paper presents various cutting edge practical countermeasures, which an Internet Service Provider (ISP) should adopt to minimize damages inflicted by DDoS attacks. It also provides a detailed study of the latest bleeding edge solution called Traffic Scrubbers. In course of this paper we discuss advantages and drawbacks of these mitigation techniques and outline a set of industry best practices, which should be followed in order to be able to mitigate DDoS attacks and minimize the casualties caused.
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Bleeding Edge DDoS Mitigation Techniques for ISPs
Vivek Ramachandran
, and Sukumar Nandi
Cisco Systems, Inc. Bangalore, India
Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati, India
Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS)
attacks are increasing plaguing the Internet
since their first big appearance against
Yahoo in the year 2000. Using thousands of
compromised slave/zombie machines, DDoS
attacks are capable of attacking and tearing
down the Internet's backbone thus forcing
all communication across it to a grinding
halt. The early DDoS attacks started as
"Script Kiddie pranks", has now evolved to
an organized digital crime, targeting
networks of government and business
establishments, with motives ranging from
defamation to extortion. This paper presents
various cutting edge practical
countermeasures, which an Internet Service
Provider (ISP) should adopt to minimize
damages inflicted by DDoS attacks. It also
provides a detailed study of the latest
bleeding edge solution called Traffic
Scrubbers. In course of this paper we discuss
advantages and drawbacks of these
mitigation techniques and outline a set of
industry best practices, which should be
followed in order to be able to mitigate
DDoS attacks and minimize the casualties
Keywords: Security, DDoS, ISP,
Blackholing, ACL, Traffic Scrubber,
Netflow, Best Practises.
1. Introduction
A Denial of Service (DoS) attack by
definition is any attack, which denies a
particular service or resource to legitimate
users. A Distributed Denial of Service
(DDoS) attack is a very large-scale
coordinated attack aimed at disrupting the
use of a resource or service by its legitimate
users. According to the Computer Incident
Advisory Capability (CIAC) first DDoS
attacks were seen in the year 1999 [1]. The
first big commercial impact of DDoS was
felt when the popular Internet site was made offline for almost two
hours, leading to huge revenues losses for
Yahoo [2]. DDoS attacks have now become
a very regular affair on the Internet with
dozens of sites being brought down every
week. The motivation behind these attacks
has drastically transitioned from casual
play” by script kiddies to “extortion
demands” by organized professional group
of hackers.
In the most general form a DDoS network
consists of the Attacker, the Master and the
Slave machines (also called Zombies). The
Attacker controls the Masters, which in turn
control the Slaves. The hierarchy for control
and command execution is pyramidal in
architecture with the Attacker at the apex,
Masters in the middle tier and Zombies at
the base. The Attackers mostly use well
known publicly released software exploits to
compromise Master and Slave machines.
Once compromised, DDoS tools are
installed on these captured machines. After
compromising a few thousand of such hosts,
the Attacker gets ready to launch a DDoS
attack. During an attack, the Attacker
commands the Master machines, which in
turn command the Slaves to start attacking
the Victim. DDoS tools installed on these
machines are capable of orchestrating a
variety of attacks. We now describe some of
the most widely deployed DDoS tools [15]
such as Trin00, TFN, TFN2K etc.
1.1. Trin00
Trin00 daemons are deployed on Solaris
and Linux systems. They use the Master-
Slave architecture as discussed above. These
compromised systems also have a root kit
installed to hide the presence of Trin00.
Master-Slave communication is over hard
coded TCP (1524, 17665) and UDP (27444,
31335) ports. The Trin00 tool does not use
IP spoofing and only sends UDP traffic
during an attack. Attacks are initiated to
random UDP ports on the victim.
1.2. Tribal Flood Network (TFN)
TFN is a powerful improvement over
Trin00 and incorporates four types of attacks
[14] viz. UDP flood, TCP SYN flood, ICMP
flood and Smurf attack. It is to be noted that
all these attacks support IP address spoofing.
The Master maintains an IP list of all slaves
reporting to it. This IP list is encrypted using
the Blowfish algorithm. The Attacker
controls the Masters using various
communication methods such as SSH
terminal sessions, telnet session and remote
shell bound to a TCP port. Masters in turn
communicate with Slaves using ICMP Echo
Reply packets with attack commands set in
the 16-bit IP Identifier field (ID).
1.3. Tribal Flood Network 2000 (TFN2K)
TFN2K is a huge leap in sophistication
over its predecessors. The source code can
be easily ported to Linux, Solaris and
Windows operating systems thus make most
computers vulnerable to abuse as Zombies.
Apart from supporting attacks used in TFN,
Targa3 and Mix attacks were introduced in
this tool. Targa3 attacks use random values
in the header fields to produce malformed IP
packets which might cause IP stacks to crash
due to improper protocol handling and Mix
attacks consist of sending UDP, TCP SYN
and ICMP packets in a 1:1:1 relation.
Communication between the Attacker and
Masters uses a randomly chosen protocol
(UDP, TCP or ICMP) and the attack vector
data uses its own protocol called “Tribe
Protocol”. The Tribe protocol is CAST-256
[16] encrypted and base64 [17] encoded.
Also all passwords are generated on demand
at compile time. The only weakness is that
because of base64 encoding regardless of
the protocol and encryption algorithm there
is a sequence of 0x41(the character ‘A’).
Actual count of the character ‘A’ might vary
but there will always be at least one. This is
used as a fingerprinting technique to stop the
tool’s communication channel.
1.4. Stacheldraht
Stacheldraht (German for “Barbed Wire”)
is an enhancement over Trin00 and TFN.
This tool uses encrypted communication
between the Attacker and Masters. The most
notable improvement seems to be an
automated update for agents, which allows
the Attacker to periodically fix bugs and add
enhancements to this already powerful tool.
Automatic update feature uses the “RCP”
command i.e. Remote Copy on port
514/TCP to update Slaves. Masters and
Slaves also communicate via ICMP Echo
Reply packets making it very difficult to
filter them, without posing a risk of breaking
Internet applications, which use ICMP Echo
packets. When the Slaves startup, they
contact their Master by locating its IP
address in a configuration file or use the
default Master’s IP hard coded in their
binary, if the configuration file is not found.
Slaves then send ICMP Echo Reply packets
to their respective Masters with the ID field
set to 666 and the data field containing
string “skillz”. Masters in turn respond with
string “ficken” and the ID set to 667.
Fortunately as all these strings are sent in
plain text and with no authentication it
becomes very easy to locate Slaves and to
hijack them.
Apart from the popular Master-Slave
architecture described above a Botnet
Architecture is often used as well. In the
Botnet Architecture, the Attacker uses an
Internet Relay Chat channel to communicate
with his Slave machines. To communicate,
both Attacker and Zombies connect to the
same IRC Channel. This is almost always a
secret channel with encryption so that
ordinary users cannot snoop into their
conversation. The Attacker now sends attack
parameters e.g. Victim IP etc out to the
Slaves through IRC and the Slaves comply
with the Attacker’s request. As IRC is a very
popular mode of communication used by
legitimate users as well, it is almost
impractical to totally firewall this traffic out.
Thus IRC provides a very “secure” channel
for DDoS control traffic as it blends in with
the IRC traffic generated by legitimate users
in the network. GTbot [3] is an example of a
Bot software used to command such
We can broadly classify all DDoS attacks
into either Bandwidth based DDoS attacks
or Resource Exhaustion DDoS attacks. In
Bandwidth based DDoS, the Attacker’s goal
is depleting the entire Internet bandwidth
available to the Victim. This is
accomplished by sending a huge flood of
packets to victim thereby saturating its entire
bandwidth to the Internet. Examples of
Bandwidth based DDoS are ICMP and UDP
floods[14]. The Resource Exhaustion attacks
are targeted at exploiting vulnerabilities in
the network stack of the Victim. Examples
of this attack are sending TCP SYN floods
or malformed packets. These packets cause
all resources on victim to be locked up and
exhausted thus making them unavailable to
legitimate users.
It is to be noted that DDoS attack
techniques are constantly evolving along
with mitigation techniques. This has lead to
a rat race between Attackers and Security
community to keep them one step above the
other. We will now discuss current
mitigation techniques available to ISP’s
around the world to combat DDoS attacks.
2. Cutting and Bleeding Edge DDoS
Mitigation Techniques
DDoS is one of the primary concern of
ISPs as they have to strictly adhere to a
minimum quality of service that they
guarantee to their customers. A loss of
Internet connectivity because of a DDoS
attack for a customer on a regular basis
might cause a loss of customers and hence
revenue. The first step an ISP needs to take
in mitigating a DDoS attack is to identify
“attack traffic” and points (network devices)
through which it is entering the network.
ISPs today use a variety of techniques to
detect, classify and mitigate attacks. We will
now discuss these techniques in detail.
2.1 Attack Detection and Classification
using Netflow
Figure 1: A Netflow Network
Netflow is a form of network telemetry and
accounting technology available on routers.
Netflow is used to provide application layer
visibility and detailed traffic information. It
allows administrators to track IP flows
across their network. An IP flow in
Netflow’s terms is defined by seven unique
keys namely Source IP, Destination IP,
Source port, Destination port, Layer 3
protocol Type, Type of Service Byte and
Input logical interface on the device for
packet. Netflow version 5 onwards, other
relevant information such as packet counts,
byte count, output interface, next hop
address, source and destination autonomous
system number etc are also available. Figure
1 shows a typical setup where individual
routers export the Netflow data they collect
to a central Collector [4]. The Administrator
can analyze the data from a Graphical User
Interface (GUI) [5]. These exported Netflow
packets are around 1500 bytes in size and
contain around 20-50 flow records per
packet. Netflow provides an insight into IP
flows across a network, thus allowing for
traffic correlation across devices.
As Netflow offers an easy way of
visualizing traffic in the form of flows, one
can detect DDoS attacks by constant
monitoring of exported data. The most
widely used technique for detecting attacks
using Netflow is to monitor the number of
flows on every device. If at any point in time
current number of flows exceeds the normal
average number of flows expected to be
seen on that device, then it can be concluded
that an attack is underway. The above
algorithm is shown in Figure 2. The values
of X, Y, Z and N are empirically chosen and
depend on the normal traffic seen on the
concerned device. Netflow is widely used to
detect such sudden changes in flow statistics
or what is called “Flow Anomaly”.
Once the Administrator is aware that
his network is under attack, he can also use
Netflow to categorize attack traffic. Doing
this using Netflow is very simple as the
problem is almost always reduced to
classifying flows to a single destination IP
address i.e. Victim of DDoS attack. Once we
have detected the characteristics of the
attack traffic the Administrator can employ
other techniques such as ACLs, Blackholing
etc to mitigate the attack. We will discuss
these techniques later in the paper.
Figure 2: Detecting DDoS using Netflow
2.2 Classification and Mitigation of
Attacks using ACLs
Access Control Lists (ACL) are rules, which
can be applied on a router or switch to filter
unwanted traffic. To fight a DDoS attack we
first classify and fingerprint attack traffic
using ACLs and then add a rule to explicitly
drop all traffic bearing the same
characteristics. To fingerprint attack traffic
we add various ACLs corresponding to
different types of traffic (ICMP, TCP, UDP
etc) on interfaces. ACLs provide a counter
which shows the number of packets which
match the rules for individual ACLs on an
interface. During a DDoS attack one can
easily classify attack traffic by periodically
checking the counters of the different ACLs.
While detecting and classifying the attack
we set ACL action to permit. Once we have
detected and fingerprinted the malicious
traffic we explicitly set the matching ACL
action to deny. This will drop all the
malicious traffic. It is to be noted here that
ACLs are a CPU consuming action and
under heavy packet floods might degrade
performance of the router. Also categorizing
complex DDoS attacks with ACLs, where
the attack traffic might vary with time would
be a bad idea, as ACLs require human
2.3 SNMP and Remote Monitoring
Simple Network Management Protocol
(SNMP) is a widely used protocol to query
real time statistics from network devices.
SNMP tools such as Net-SNMP [6..8]
provide a good platform to collect and
analyze device statistics almost in real time.
SNMP Management Information Base
(MIB) support polling of information on a
device ranging from chassis temperature,
CPU utilization, bandwidth consumed per
interface, packet speeds etc. A lot of this
information can be used to detect DDoS
attacks by identifying any anomalous
behavior as a possible indication. A high
CPU utilization or a large number of packets
coming into an interface on an edge router
could be a possible sign of an attack. Thus
SNMP is a handy tool to detect DDoS.
RMON is a standard, which defines how a
set of network remote probes or agents relay
networks traffic information; they
individually collect to a central location for
further analysis. RMON is not as popular as
SNMP or NETFLOW and normally uses
raw traffic via SPAN/RSPAN and generates
statistics for further analysis. These statistics
can be analyzed periodically for signs of an
2.4 RFC 2827/BCP 38 Ingress Packet
DDoS attacks almost essentially use IP
address spoofing to obfuscate the real
location of Attacker and Zombie machines.
RFC 2827/BCP 38 [11] was drafted as a
counter measure to prevent IP address
spoofing. The goal of this filtering is to
make sure that all packets leaving a network
should be sourced from a valid allocated
address space, which is consistent with
topology and space allocation. To counter IP
spoofing it is highly desired that devices
filter packets as close to the concerned edge
as possible and filter based on both source
and destination addresses. We will now
discuss the various measures, which can be
implemented, on a network to be able to
concur with the draft.
2.4.1 Unicast Reverse Path Forwarding
Unicast Reverse Path Forwarding [12] is a
technique used to drop packets with forged
IP addresses on routers. uRPF uses the
principle of symmetric routing based on
which a packet is expected to arrive on an
interface which is on the best return path for
that source address, on that router.
Depending on the network topology one
may configure either Strict or Loose uRPF
checks. When a Strict uRPF is configured on
a router, only packets arriving on a router
interface, which is the best return path
interface for the source address of the packet
are forwarded and all other packets are
dropped. In Loose uRPF, a packet is
forwarded if there exists at least one
interface on the router, which is the best
return path for that source address. If such
an interface is not found on the router
matching the above criterion then the packet
is dropped. uRPF is most applicable to
single homed environments where there is a
single upstream channel i.e. symmetric
routing. uRPF produces best results if it is
applied as much downstream as possible.
As IP address spoofing is a major part of
any DDoS attack, an Internet wide
deployment of uRPF would be very
effective in thwarting this. It is however
cautioned that uRPF should not be applied
to networks which have asymmetric routing
topologies i.e. networks having multiple
routes to same source, as this would result in
wrongly dropping packet instead of
forwarding it.
2.4.2 IP Source Guard
The IP source guard [13] feature prevents
IP spoofing at the access edge itself. This
feature is available on a variety of switches.
This works along with DHCP Snooping [13]
to detect IP spoofing. When a switch port
comes up all traffic on it is blocked except
DHCP traffic. Once the host connected to
the switch port receives a valid IP address
through a DHCP server a Port Access
Control List (PACL) is set on that port. This
PACL will only allow packets sourced from
the valid IP address assigned previously by
DHCP, to communicate through this port.
The Switch keeps track of the valid IP
address binding for that port through a
process called DHCP Snooping. In DHCP
Snooping the switch peers into DHCP traffic
passing through that port and keeps track of
the DHCP server assigned IP address in a
special table. If traffic is seen from any other
address other then the learnt one in its table,
an alarm is raised and the appropriate
configured violation action is taken. This
technique succeeds in mitigating IP spoofing
totally at the access edge. As a worst case
violation measure the Administrator can
configure that the switch port be shut down
and the offending host be denied all network
2.4.3 Access Control Lists (ACLs)
ACLs can also be used to drop spoofed
packets. Using ACLs an Administrator can
enable ingress traffic filtering on a network.
In the simplest form of implementation the
Administrator needs to configure a static
ACL which permits all traffic from source
addresses belonging to the allocated block
for a given network and deny all other
source address traffic.
In some cases it is also desirable to allow
traffic to only certain ports on some hosts
from the outside world e.g. Port 80 on a
Web server.
An Internet wide deployment of IP
spoofing mitigation techniques such as the
above will help curb this problem totally.
This in turn will help in locating the
Attacker and his Slaves faster and thus help
mitigate the attack sooner.
2.5 Device Security
Router security is one of the key issues in
securing a network. The easiest DDoS attack
would be to take over all Routers on the
network and configure them to drop all
traffic. There are many things one must
remember to do in order to “harden” the
router’s configuration. Foremost thing one
must remember is that Routers ship with
factory defaults (default configurations,
passwords etc) making them inherently
insecure. It is advisable to “harden” the
router configuration before placing it on a
live network. In the process of hardening
one must ensure that all unnecessary
services should be shut down e.g. finger,
http etc. Also one should be cautious when
allowing the use of protocols such as Cisco
Discovery Protocol (CDP) between devices
on the network, as they convey valuable
device and network information to the
requestor. On the networks where SNMP is
being used for device configuration, it
would be advisable to shift to SNMP version
3 as it offers authentication and encryption.
SNMP v1 and SNMP v2 are known to have
widely publicized vulnerabilities. The
Administrator should also be careful to
make access to routers available only from
trusted sources by judiciously enabling
password protections at every possible
authorization level. The preferred
communication medium to connect to the
router should be an encrypted one with the
use of protocols such as SSH instead of
Telnet. The Administrator should also
configure local user level passwords on the
router and also authentication through a
AAA [20] server such as RADIUS,
TACACS+ etc is highly recommended.
Also one must be alert enough to patch
Routers as soon as any new vulnerability
disclosure is made by the Router’s vendor.
Router security is an important building
block in securing a network against DDoS.
2.6 Blackholing and Remote Trigger
Blackholing (RTBH)
Blackhole filtering or Blackhole Routing
is a popular technique used by ISP’s to drop
undesired packets on their routers. The
Administrator can configure static routes on
routers to drop all packets destined to a
particular IP address. To achieve this the
Administrator can setup a static route for the
IP address, packets destined to which are
desired to be dropped and configure it to
send it to Null0. The Null0 is actually a
special interface on routers. A packet sent to
Null0 implies that the packet be dropped.
These packets are dropped based on their
destination address in router hardware, thus
having almost no performance impact on
routers. This technique is also called Route
to Null0”. During a DDoS attack the
Administrator can configure a “Route to
Null0” or “Blackhole” for the destination IP
address (IP of Victim under DDoS attack)
on edge routers. This will ensure that all
traffic destined to the Victim is dropped at
the network edges thus lowering impact of
DDoS attack on the whole network. The
disadvantage of this technique is that even
legitimate good traffic is dropped along with
bad traffic thus making the Victim
inaccessible through the Internet. This
technique is a drastic measure, which has to
be taken often to save the rest of the network
from DDoS attack.
Remote Trigger Blackholing uses the
Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) to trigger a
network wide Blackholing” response to an
attack. This technique works by exploiting
the fact that BGP allows arbitrary next hops
to be defined administratively. This
technique requires that a static route to
Null0 be configured for a “Reserved IP”
[10] address on all edge routers
(Blackholing). We then designate one of the
routers on the network as the “Trigger
Router”. This router will be used to trigger a
network wide BGP update. During a DDoS
attack targeting a victim with IP address X
on the network, we will configure a static
route for IP address X on the Trigger Router
and administratively force the next hop to be
configured to the “Reserved IP address” we
had earlier set network wide, to be routed to
Null0. This change in configuration on the
Trigger Router will cause a network wide
iBGP (Interior BGP) update to be sent. All
the routers in the network will update their
routing tables accordingly. This will in turn
cause all packets destined to IP address X to
be dropped on all routers, thus mitigating
DDoS attack at the network edges. It is to be
noted that this technique does not impose
the usage of BGP as routing protocol for the
network. It just requires deployment of an
iBGP mesh, internal to the network and need
only contain the Blackholed addresses in its
table. The routing on the network can use
any protocol it wants e.g. Route Information
Protocol (RIP) and coexist with these
Blackholed routes used by BGP. RTBH is
actually an improvement over Blackholing,
making it possible to trigger a fast network
wide response to an attack.
2.7 Sinkholes
Sinkholes are a topological feature use to
divert attack traffic to a dedicated network,
which can withstand the attack. The traffic
directed to the Sinkhole can be used for
further analysis and classification using
ACLs, Sniffers and Network based traffic
anomaly detectors. In a typical installation
the sinkhole will advertise routes for the IP
address range under attack to all routers on
the network. After receiving the routing
update routers redirect all traffic destined for
the Victim IP address range to the sinkhole.
Routing updates are done using a CIDR[18]
advertisement for the block of IP addresses
under attack. Once traffic enters the
Sinkhole it is thoroughly scrutinized for
bogus scans i.e. packets from unallocated IP
addresses, allocated and announced but
unused IP address spaces and for RFC 1918
addresses. Results of detailed analysis from
the Sinkhole can be used to fingerprint and
classify attack traffic. Also one can try back
tracing the source of the attacks by using the
Backscatter data (this technique is described
in the next section) attracted to the Sinkhole.
2.8 Back Scatter
The Backscatter technique uses the RTBH
and Sinkhole architectures to provide a
better view of the ongoing attack. When a
network with RTBH deployed, comes under
a DDoS attack, the RTBH technique sets
next hop for the Victim IP address under
attack, to be sent to Null0. This causes
packets to be dropped but at the same time
the router sends an ICMP Unreachable error
message to source address of the dropped
packets. To be able to collect some of these
ICMP messages we use the Sinkholes to
advertise for a large block of unallocated
space (after referring to [10]).
If we assume that the source IP addresses
in the spoofed packets are randomly
generated then the probability that a given
host on the Internet will receive an
unsolicited response from victim of DDoS
attacks is:
E(X) =
If the Sinkhole advertises N distinct IP
addresses and the network receives M attack
packets then the probability of receiving a
packet in the Sinkhole is
E(X) =
One should remember that these prefix
advertisements made by the Sinkhole should
be confined within the local network and
should not be exported to other ISPs. This
can be easily done by using BGP’s no export
option and by the use of BGP egress routing
filters. Once the Sinkhole receives all these
backscattered ICMP packets it can construct
the entry points for the spoofed IP addresses
into the local network. Analysis of source
addresses in these ICMP packets helps us
identify if the attack is coming from internal
or external sources to the ISP’s network.
Effectiveness of the Backscatter technique
depends on the fact that attacker will spoof
IP addresses uniformly across the entire
address space and that all unsolicited
packets received by the Sinkhole are
backscatter traffic. We will now describe the
bleeding edge solution of Traffic Scrubbers,
which is a huge improvement over all the
above-mentioned techniques.
2.9 Traffic Scrubbers
All mitigation techniques discussed above
involve dropping all traffic destined for the
Victim of the DDoS. This saves the rest of
the network from being impacted from the
DDoS but the Victim loses total connectivity
to the outside world. Thus the Attacker
actually, accomplishes his goal of denying
services on the Victim to legitimate clients.
To combat this problem industry research
gave way to the innovation of “Traffic
Scrubbers”. These Scrubbers have
capabilities, which allow them to distinguish
between good and bad traffic. They mitigate
DDoS attacks by forwarding only good
traffic and dropping attack traffic.
Traffic scrubbers isolate good traffic from
bad traffic by using various protocol specific
features to “authenticate” TCP and UDP
traffic. Here “authenticate” means to be able
to identify clearly the packets coming from
legitimate sources (good traffic) and those
coming from spoofed sources (bad traffic).
In all these techniques the Scrubber
authenticates the traffic first and then after
successful authentication, allows a normal
flow between two end hosts for the entire
lifetime of this session. The TCP Intercept
[19] is one such technique where the router
does in line source address validation of all
clients requesting a TCP connection to any
host in the inside network.
The TCP Intercept technique works in two
modes viz. Intercept and Watch. In the
Intercept Mode, the Router intercepts the
TCP SYN packet destined for an inside host
and sends a TCP SYN/ACK on its behalf. If
the connecting host responds back with a
TCP ACK packet for TCP SYN/ACK sent
by the router, thus completing the TCP three
way handshake, then the Router initiates a
connection to the inside host and
transparently proxies all data between these
two hosts. In case the originally sent TCP
SYN was spoofed then the three-way
handshake will not be successful. In such a
case the router will either receive no
response or a TCP RST packet. In such a
scenario the Router shields the internal host
from the attack. This technique ensures that
all spoofed TCP traffic will be dropped and
will never reach protected hosts in the
internal network. This unfortunately still
does not stop an attack where the Zombie
machines might risk getting detected but use
their IP addresses to initiate a legitimate
connection. This technique has an additional
overhead of the Router having to act as a
proxy for these connections. In the Watch
mode the TCP Intercept mechanism
passively watches TCP half open
connections and will actively close
connections on the internal hosts after a
configurable length of time. The Traffic
Scrubbers internally employ techniques like
the TCP Intercept to clean the attack traffic.
We can broadly categorize Traffic
Scrubbers based on their location on the
network with respect to traffic flow into two
types viz. “Inline” and “Diversion” model
In the “Inline Model” the Scrubber is
placed in the line of incoming traffic. It
cleanses traffic and forwards good traffic to
destination or to the next hop. An example
of an Inline Scrubber is the DDoS Guard
from Green Gate Labs [9].
In the “Diversion Model” all traffic
destined for Victim of DDoS attack is
redirected to the Scrubber. The Scrubber
cleans all bad traffic and forwards good
traffic to the destination host. An example of
a Diversion Scrubber is the Cisco Guard
XT[21] and CloudShield CS-2000 [22].
Among the products in the Traffic
Scrubber product line, Cisco Guard XT
currently leads the industry over others. We
will now discuss the Cisco Guard in more
detail to be able to provide an insight into
architecture of Traffic Scrubbers.
The Cisco Guard XT and Anomaly
Detector XT work hand in hand to detect
and mitigate DDoS attacks. The Cisco
Anomaly detector is placed on the network
we desire to protect so that it can analyze
traffic sent to hosts on the network. The
Cisco Guard is placed upstream near the
edge of the network, near border routers. On
detecting a possible attack the Detector
activates the Cisco Guard by sending the IP
address and other information of Victim
under attack to it over a secure channel. The
Cisco Guard now sends a BGP update
message to the peer router to divert all
traffic meant for the victim to it. The peer
router now sends all traffic destined for the
Victim to the Guard.
Figure 3: Diversion Traffic Scrubber
It is to be noted that rest of the traffic for
the internal network still flows through the
normal route i.e. through peer router to
individual hosts. The Cisco Guard “cleans”
traffic redirected to it using a patented Multi
Verification Process, which uses various
Anti-Spoofing techniques to differentiate
legitimate user traffic from attacker
generated traffic. From what has been made
public, the Guard authenticates TCP traffic
with a method similar to the TCP Intercept
but may/may not act as a proxy depending
upon the configuration options. The Guard
also provides techniques, which can be used
to authenticate HTTP and DNS traffic. The
Guard drops all malicious traffic and the
legitimate traffic is forwarded to destination.
This ensures that the destination host only
receives clean traffic and not the attack
traffic thus allowing it to function normally.
The Cisco Guard can be triggered using the
Cisco Anomaly Detector or using an Arbor
product called Arbor Networks Peakflow
SP[23]. Arbor Peakflow SP uses Netflow
data from across the network and analyses it
in real time to detect attacks. If it detects an
anomaly in the traffic to any of hosts it is
protecting then it sends a trigger to the Cisco
Guard. The Guard in turn cleans traffic as
mentioned previously and allows normal
functioning of host.
Traffic Scrubbers are definitely a huge
leap for DDoS Mitigation technologies but
are not fool proof. These Scrubbers are very
effective against TCP based attacks but still
a lot of progress needs to be made on the
UDP front. The problem with UDP is the
fact that it is a datagram service, so the only
way most UDP protocols can be
“authenticated” and labeled as “legitimate
and non malicious” is to peer into
application layer while a session is in
progress and check for malicious activity.
Even though Traffic Scrubbers provide a
way to authenticate TCP traffic, an Attacker
can launch a TCP DDoS attack even in the
presence of a Scrubber by having thousands
of his Slaves attack Victim by opening a
legitimate connection simultaneously. The
TCP authentication mechanism of the
Scrubbers would allow all these packets to
go through because the Zombies are
completing TCP three-way handshake.
Though this will expose the real IP address
of the Zombie but the Victim host will
succumb to the overwhelming number of
connections made to it. To combat such an
attack we use rate limiters like the
Committed Access Rate (CAR) feature
which we discuss in the next section.
2.10 Committed Access Rate (CAR)
CAR is a traffic rate-limiting feature
working on Layer 3. This feature rate limits
input traffic before forwarding it towards the
destination. The advantage of this technique
is it allows the Administrator to flexibly
configure rate limits for various kinds of
traffic differently e.g. ICMP and TCP may
have different rate limits configured. Using
CAR rate limits can also be set on a per IP
address basis. In a typical deployment CAR
is used with BGP and this combination is
referred to as Remote Triggered CAR. As
DDoS traffic characteristics change
dynamically with time, it is necessary to
have a solution, which can allow for fast
updates on routers to be able to successfully
mitigate attacks. Using QoS Policy
Propagation on BGP (QPPB) we can
dynamically update our CAR rate limiter
specifications on edge routers through BGP.
CAR has proved to be one of the most
important mitigation techniques to keep the
amount of traffic coming into the network in
3. Industry Best Practices
The discussion in Section 2 has definitely
brought out the point that there is no “one
solution” for a DDoS attack but a “set of
solutions”. Mitigating a DDoS attack
requires a careful design of the network
much in advance of the attack. The choice of
the mitigation technique depends upon the
size of the network as well as the amount of
investment one wants to make on security
i.e. An RTBH will just leverage the existing
Routers but a Cisco Guard XT will require
an investment of a couple of thousand of
The best practices are guidelines, which if
followed mitigate and greatly minimize
damages caused by a DDoS attack attempt.
For preventing becoming an unwitting aid to
a DDoS attacker, Administrators should
have a patch management system in place.
As soon as a new security exploit is made
public the Administrator should download
patches from the vendor’s site and patch all
vulnerable systems. This will ensure that an
Attacker cannot use publicly available
exploits to hijack the network’s computers
and use them as Zombies. To be able to
detect Zero day exploits, Administrators
should deploy anomaly based network
intrusion detection systems across the
network. It is also a good practice to employ
external network penetration testers from
time to time to audit the network’s security
and patch problems, which they uncover
(which the Administrator might have
previously overlooked). To curb IP address-
spoofing ISPs worldwide should deploy
uRPF, ACL filtering, IP Source Guard etc
counter measures as described in this paper.
As stressed throughout this paper the
mitigation capabilities of a network against
DDoS attack is determined by how well the
network has been designed with a possibility
of DDoS attack in mind. It is advisable that
Netflow or SNMP be used for periodically
polling routers for statistics so that a DDoS
attack can easily be detected and
fingerprinted at the earliest. Sinkholes and
Backscatter techniques allow one to
determine very quickly the nature and
direction of the attack i.e. routers through
which attack traffic is entering. RTBH
should be deployed on networks which do
not have a Traffic Scrubber in place or as a
backup in case the Scrubber fails to do its
job properly. If one can afford then a Traffic
Scrubber should definitely be used to protect
the network. A router with CAR enabled
should be placed before the main core
network to make sure that even if the Traffic
Scrubbing lets a huge flood of seemingly
legitimate packets through, one can still rate
limit traffic before it reaches its final
destination. It is very clear that the best
practice is to deploy and have in place both
detection and mitigation techniques while
designing the network, well in advance of an
actual DDoS attack attempt.
4. Conclusion
DDoS attacks are a growing menace on
the Internet and are here to stay. Though the
industry has come up with some innovative
techniques to combat this menace, but
unfortunately none of these solutions are
fool proof. The best solutions still seem to
be the ones where we drop or rate limit all
packets destined to victim on the edge
routers. Doing this ensures that other hosts
on the network can still remain functional in
the event of a DDoS attack but the victim of
the DDoS is inaccessible to the outside
world, which meets Attackers original
objective. The bleeding edge solution
provided by Traffic Scrubbers is definitely a
step in the right direction but the technology
is still far from mature and needs to address
various issues like a generic UDP traffic
authentication. Our concluding remark
would be that more research is required to
formulate a full proof solution to defeat
DDoS attack but till that day comes,
following the best practices will definitely
help mitigate or at least minimize the
casualties of a DDoS attack.
5. Acknowledgements
The first author wishes to thank Prof.
Sukumar Nandi for constantly encouraging
him and guiding him at every step. He
would also like to thank Ms. Seema
Nagabhushana and Ms. Tulasi from Cisco
Systems, Inc. for proof reading the paper at
such a short notice.
1. Paul J. Criscuolo. “Distributed Denial of
Service Trin00, Tribe Flood Network,
Tribe Flood Network 2000, And
Stacheldraht CIAC-2319”. Department of
Energy Computer Incident Advisory
Capability (CIAC), UCRL-ID-136939,
Rev. 1., Lawrence Livermore National
Laboratory, February 14, 2000.
2. “Yahoo on Trail of Site Hackers”,, February 8, 2000.,13
67,34221,00.html (15 May 2003).
3. GTbot , A DDoS tool
4. The OSU flow tools, Mark Fullmer,
5. Flowscan Tool for Netflow data
visualization, Dave Plonka,
6. Net-SNMP Tool,
7. Multi router traffic grabber , Tobi Oetiker
8. Round Robin Database Tool RRDTool,
9. DDoS-Guard, Green Gates Guard,
10. IP version 4 Address Space Assignment
11. Network Ingress Filtering: Defeating
Denial of Service Attacks which employ
IP Source Address Spoofing, RFC 2827,
12. Unicast Reverse Path Forwarding
13. DHCP Snooping and IP Source Guard
14. DDoS Resources,
15. DDoS Tools, Dave Dittrich,
16. CAST-256 Encryption, RFC 2612,
17. Base 64 Encoding Scheme
18. Classless Interdomain Routing,
19. The TCP Intercept Feature,
20. AAA Server Configuration Guide,
21.The Cisco Guard XT and Anomaly
Detector XT,
22. The CloudShield CS-2000,
23. The Arbor Peakflow SP,
... It was found that the Netscreen 5GT effectively mitigated the impact of DoS attack to some degree particularly when the attack is of lower intensity. However, the device was unable to provide any protection against Layer 4 flood attacks when the traffic intensity was about 40Mbps and above [15]. This method will be effective in a home, office or small network where the rate of transmission or bandwidth usage is not more than 40Mbps. ...
... In order to mitigate the DoS attack, we need to detect and classify the attack in types in order to explicitly write and include the ACL rule that will drop or permit traffic into the list ACL rules. To detect and classify attack traffic we add various ACLs matching to different types of traffic ICMP, TCP, UDP, etc on router or switch interfaces [15]. ACLs have got a facility that counts the number of packets, size ACL match, source and destination address that flows through the interface where the ACL is applied. ...
Full-text available
The Denial of service (DoS) attack is one of the most widespread attacks that can be used to effectively bring the operation of a host/server to a standstill. One of the motives behind the DoS attack is to make the host/server unreachable to legitimate users. DoS could take one of three possible forms. First, an attacker could stop the network from transmitting the required messages to genuine users on the network. Alternatively, the network could be prompted to generate and spread messages which should not be spreading. The last and the most common form of DoS attack in recent times is an act of generating and transmitting excessive and unnecessary traffic (flooding the network) directed towards a selected network or host/server so as to stop legitimate users from gaining access or receiving the required service from the host/server. Therefore, it is essential to become aware of and mitigate or otherwise minimize the damages and losses that result from the impact of DoS attacks. The main aim of this paper is to critically examine, analyze and compare different DoS mitigation techniques (Mitigation using Hop-Count Filtering, Ingress Filtering, TCP probing for Reply Argument Packet Technique, History-based Attack Detection and Reaction (HADR), Hardware, Extended Access control list, Capability-based method), point out there weaknesses and strengths in order for network administrators to know which mitigation technique(s) will work best for his/her network.
One type of attack on computer systems is known as a Denial of Service (DoS) attack. A Denial of Service attack is designed to prevent legitimate users from using a system. Traditional Denial of Service attacks are done by exploiting a buffer overflow, exhausting system resources, or exploiting a system bug that results in a system that is no longer functional. In the summer of 1999, a new breed of attack has been developed called Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack. Several educational and high capacity commercial sites have been affected by these Distributed Denial of Service attacks. A Distributed Denial of Service attack uses multiple machines operating in concert to attack a network or site. There is very little that can be done if you are the target of a DDoS. The nature of these attacks cause so much extra network traffic that it is difficult for legitimate traffic to reach your site while blocking the forged attacking
Distributed Denial of Service Trin00, Tribe Flood Network, Tribe Flood Network Stacheldraht CIAC-2319”. Department of Energy Computer Incident Advisory Capability (CIAC), UCRL-ID-136939
  • J Paul
  • Criscuolo
Paul J. Criscuolo. “Distributed Denial of Service Trin00, Tribe Flood Network, Tribe Flood Network Stacheldraht CIAC-2319”. Department of Energy Computer Incident Advisory Capability (CIAC), UCRL-ID-136939, 2000, And Rev. 1., Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, February 14, 2000.
Yahoo on Trail of Site Hackers
" Yahoo on Trail of Site Hackers ",, February 8, 2000.,13 67,34221,00.html (15 May 2003).