It seems cybercriminals are no longer content just to bring down Web sites with their distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. Now, these cybercrooks are demanding ransom from Web site owners to call off their DDoS assaults, leaving victims between a rock and a hard place — either pay up or watch their sites go dark.
Distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks are booming, and may be reaching new levels that include more blackmail. According to recent reports, we could be entering a new phase of site attacks.
Prolexic, a security firm, issued a report this month that said attacks in general, in particular DDoS, were up 32 percent in the last year over 2012. DDoS attacks generally utilize networks of hijacked computers, which then bombard targeted Web sites with requests that overwhelm them, causing the sites to crash. While such attacks have been common for years, new benchmarks are appearing.
In February, security firm Cloudfare reported that it recently helped protect one of its clients against the largest DDoS attack on record. The unnamed Web site, according to Cloudfare, was subjected to 400 gigabytes per second, nearly a third larger than the 2013 attack on antispam Web site Spamhaus. The Spamhaus attack, also fended off by Cloudfare, had been the largest on record to that point.
Last month, domain registration company Namecheap reported it had been assaulted by a coordinated attack on 300 of its registered sites. This week, social networker Meetup.com said attackers demanded a $300 ransom in exchange for calling off a DDoS attack. The site refused, and was brought down for several days, including over the Oscars weekend when many Meetup users scheduled get-togethers.
In a blog post, CEO Scott Heiferman said that his company did not want to negotiate with criminals, especially since the low ransom demand apparently meant the attackers were amateurs who might be encouraged to engage in more such efforts. Reportedly, such ransom demands, especially when no user confidential data is involved, are not uncommon but are not frequently made public.
A New Era Has Dawned
Lawrence Orans, research vice president at industry research firm Gartner, told us that we may indeed be in a new era. He said, “[The] DDoS attack landscape changed in September, 2012, when attackers began to launch attacks using botnets of compromised servers, instead of botnets of compromised PCs.”
He added that these server botnets enabled attackers to launch more powerful attacks, and the key event in that month occurred when cyberattacker group Izz Ad-Din Al Qassam “started to launch attacks, using botnets of servers, against major North American banks.”
A report late last year from the Ponemon Institute said that nearly 20 percent of U.S. data center outages resulted from organized attacks on Web sites. Orans noted that DDoS attacks can span from several hours to several days, and ISPs are currently charging “a 15 percent premium over bandwidth costs to offer a ‘clean pipe’ service to monitor and mitigate against DDoS attacks.” Some estimates peg the average cost of a DDoS outage at about $630,000.
To counter this, Orans said that enterprises in verticals commonly targeted for DDoS attacks “should consider specialty DDoS mitigation providers,” or DDoS mitigation services provided by ISPs.