Neustar's Security Operations Center (SOC) saw a 168 percent increase in distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks in Q4 2019, compared with Q4 2018, and a 180 percent increase overall in 2019 vs. 2018.
According to Neustar’s latest cyber threats and trends report, the company saw DDoS attacks across all size categories increase in 2019, with attacks sized 5 Gbps and below seeing the largest growth. These small-scale attacks made up more than three quarters of all attacks the company mitigated on behalf of its customers in 2019.
DDoS attacks taking varied forms
In 2019, the largest threat Neustar mitigated, at 587 gigabits per second (Gbps), was 31 percent larger than the largest attack of 2018, while the maximum attack intensity observed in 2019, 343 million packets per second (Mpps), was 252 percent higher than that of the most intense attack seen in 2018, notes the report. However, despite these higher peaks, the average attack size (12 Gbps) and intensity (3 Mpps) remained consistent year over year, says the report. The longest single, uninterrupted attack experienced in 2019 lasted three days, 13 hours and eight minutes.
Though the number of attacks increased significantly across all size categories, small-scale attacks (5 Gbps and below) again saw the largest growth in 2019, continuing the trend from the previous year. The combination of DDoS-for-hire and botnet rental services has made DDoS attacks much easier to execute, but the fact that perpetrators seem to be in many cases choosing to engage in small-scale attacks suggests that their goal may often be something other than taking a site completely offline, says Neustar.
“Large, headline-making DDoS attacks do still take place, but many cybersecurity professionals believe that smaller attacks are being used simply to degrade site performance or as a smokescreen for other forms of cybercrime, such as data theft or network infiltration, which the perpetrator can execute more easily while the target’s security team is busy fighting a DDoS attack,” said Rodney Joffe, senior vice president, senior technologist and fellow at Neustar. “Furthermore, with the current move of the bulk of the workforce globally to a work from home model, we expect to see a significant increase in DDoS attacks against VPN infrastructure. This risk makes an ‘always on’ DDoS mitigation service even more critical.”
In addition to conventional DDoS attacks, which seek to exhaust bandwidth, in 2019 Neustar also observed an increase in network protocol or state exhaustion attacks, which target network infrastructure directly. Volumetric attacks continued to proliferate as well, with attackers using new DDoS vectors such as Apple Remote Management Services, Web Services Dynamic Discovery, Ubiquiti Discovery Protocol and the Constrained Application Protocol.
Joffe said, “During the shift to teleworking at scale, we would not be surprised to see the VPN protocol ports added to these targeted attacks.”
Two- and three-vector attacks ‘just right’ for attackers
In 2019, approximately 85 percent of all attacks used two or more threat vectors. That number is comparable to the 2018 figure; however, the number of attacks involving two or three vectors rose from 55 percent to 70 percent, with correspondingly fewer simple single-vector attacks and complex four- and five-vector attacks, suggesting that attackers have settled into the Goldilocks zone for attacks, found the report.
Security professionals continue to view DDoS attacks as a growing threat: According to the most recent Neustar International Security Council (NISC) survey, when asked which vectors they perceived to be increasing threats during November and December 2019, senior-level cybersecurity decision-makers cited social engineering via email most frequently (59 percent), followed by DDoS (58 percent) and ransomware (56 percent).
Web attacks increasing
2019 saw web attacks on the rise as well. Most companies recognize the danger that slow-loading websites pose to their business and attempt to protect them with web application firewalls. In the most recent NISC survey, 98 percent of respondents agreed that a WAF was an essential component of their security infrastructure. However, as more and more enterprises use multiple cloud providers, often involving a mix of public and private clouds, the need for consistent security across applications and platforms is growing.
“Web attacks can be difficult to track because some variation in the performance of websites is to be expected, but they are increasingly critical for businesses to address. One survey found 45% of consumers are less likely to make a purchase when they experience a slow loading website, and 37 percent are less likely to return to a retailer if they experience slow loading pages,” added Joffe.
A complimentary copy of the Neustar 2019: The Year in Review cyber threats and trends report is available here.