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Methods of attacks
A "denial-of-service" attack is characterized by an explicit attempt by attackers to prevent legitimate users of a service from using that service. Examples include:
attempts to "flood" a network, thereby preventing legitimate network traffic;
Attempt to disrupt a server by sending more requests than it can possibly handle, thereby preventing access to a service;
attempts to prevent a particular individual from accessing a service;
attempts to disrupt service to a specific system or person.
Attacks can be directed at any network device, including attacks on routing devices and Web, electronic mail, or Domain Name System servers.
A DoS attack can be perpetrated in a number of ways. There are three basic types of attack:
consumption of computational resources, such as bandwidth, disk space, or CPU time;
disruption of configuration information, such as routing information;
disruption of physical network components.
In addition, the US-CERT has provided tips on the manifestations of DoS attacks:
unusually slow network performance (opening files or accessing web sites)
unavailability of a particular web site
inability to access any web site
dramatic increase in the number of spam emails received
SYN flood sends a flood of TCP/SYN packets, often with a forged sender address. Each of these packets are handled like a connection request, causing the server to spawn a half-open connection, by sending back a TCP/SYN-ACK packet, and waiting for an TCP/ACK packet in response from the sender address. However, because the sender address is forged, the response never comes. These half-open connections consume resources on the server and limit the number of connections the server is able to make, reducing the server's ability to respond to legitimate requests until after the attack ends.
When a computer wants to make a TCP/IP connection (the most common internet connection) to another computer, usually a server, an exchange of TCP/SYN and TCP/ACK packets of information occur. The computer requesting the connection, usually the client's or user's computer, sends a TCP/SYN packet which asks the server if it can connect. If the server will allow connections, it sends a TCP/SYN-ACK packet back to the client to say "Yes, you may connect" and reserves a space for the connection, waiting for the client to respond with a TCP/ACK packet detailing the specifics of its connection.
In a SYN flood the address of the client is often forged so that when the server sends the go-ahead back to the client, the message is never received because the client either doesn't exist or wasn't expecting the packet and subsequently ignores it. This leaves the server with a dead connection, reserved for a client that will never respond. Usually this is done to one server many times in order to reserve all the connections for unresolved clients, which keeps legitimate clients from making connections.
The classic example is that of a party. Only 50 people can be invited to a party, and invitations are available on a first-come first-serve basis. Fifty people send letters to request invitations, but the letters have false return addresses. The invitations are mailed to the return addresses of the request letters. Unfortunately all the return addresses provided were fake, so nobody receives the invitations. Now, when someone actually wants to come to the party (view the website), there are no invitations left because all the invitations (connections) have been reserved for those 50 people.
A smurf attack is one particular variant of a flooding DoS attack on the public Internet. It relies on mis-configured network devices that allow packets to be sent to all computer hosts on a particular network via the broadcast address of the network, rather than a specific machine. The network then serves as a smurf amplifier. In such an attack, the perpetrators will send large numbers of IP packets with the source address faked to appear to be the address of the victim. To combat Denial of Service attacks on the Internet, services like the Smurf Amplifier Registry have given network service providers the ability to identify misconfigured networks and to take appropriate action such as filtering.
Ping flood is based on sending the victim an overwhelming number of ping packets, usually using the "ping -f" command. It is very simple to launch, the primary requirement being access to greater bandwidth than the victim.
UDP floods include "Fraggle attacks". In a fraggle attack an attacker sends a large amount of UDP echo traffic to IP broadcast addresses, all of it having a fake source address. It is a simple rewrite of the smurf attack code.
Application level floods
On IRC, IRC floods are a common electronic warfare weapon.
Various DoS-causing exploits such as buffer overflow can cause server-running software to get confused and fill the disk space or consume all available memory or CPU time.
Other kinds of DoS rely primarily on brute force, flooding the target with an overwhelming flux of packets, oversaturating its connection bandwidth or depleting the target's system resources. Bandwidth-saturating floods rely on the attacker having higher bandwidth available than the victim; a common way of achieving this today is via Distributed Denial of Service, employing a botnet. Other floods may use specific packet types or connection requests to saturate finite resources by, for example, occupying the maximum number of open connections or filling the victim's disk space with logs.
A "banana attack" is another particular type of DoS. It involves redirecting outgoing messages from the client back onto the client, preventing outside access, as well as flooding the client with the sent packets.
An attacker with access to a victim's computer may slow it until it is unusable or crash it by using a fork bomb.
A 'Pulsing zombie' is a term referring to a special denial-of-service attack. A network is subjected to hostile pinging by different attacker computers over an extended amount of time. This results in a degraded quality of service and increased workload for the network's resources. This type of attack is more difficult to detect than traditional denial-of-service attacks due to their surreptitious nature.
A distributed denial of service attack (DDoS) occurs when multiple compromised systems flood the bandwidth or resources of a targeted system, usually a web server(s). These systems are compromised by attackers using a variety of methods.
Malware can carry DDoS attack mechanisms; one of the more well known examples of this was MyDoom. Its DoS mechanism was triggered on a specific date and time. This type of DDoS involved hardcoding the target IP address prior to release of the malware and no further interaction was necessary to launch the attack.
A system may also be compromised with a trojan, allowing the attacker to download a zombie agent (or the trojan may contain one). Attackers can also break into systems using automated tools that exploit flaws in programs that listen for connections from remote hosts. This scenario primarily concerns systems acting as servers on the web.
Stacheldraht is a classic example of a DDoS tool. It utilizes a layered structure where the attacker uses a client program to connect to handlers which are compromised systems that issue commands to the zombie agents which in turn facilitate the DDoS attack. Agents are compromised via the handlers by the attacker using automated routines to exploit vulnerabilities in programs that accept remote connections running on the targeted remote hosts. Each handler can control up to a thousand agents.
These collections of compromised systems are known as botnets, DDoS tools like stacheldraht still use classic DoS attack methods centered around ip spoofing and amplification like smurf and fraggle attacks (these are also known as bandwidth consumption attacks), SYN floods (also known as resource starvation attacks) may also be used. Newer tools can use DNS servers for DoS purposes. (see next section)
Unlike MyDooms DDoS mechanism botnets can be turned against any ip address. Script kiddies use them to deny the availability of well known websites to legitimate users. More sophisticated attackers will use DDoS tools for the purposes of extortion and even against their business rivals.
It is important to note the difference between a DDoS and DoS attack. If an attacker mounts a smurf attack from a single host it would be classed as a DoS attack. In fact any attack against availability e.g. using High-energy radio-frequency weapons to render computer equipment inoperable would be classed as a Denial of Service attack albeit an exotic one. On the other hand if an attacker uses a thousand zombie systems to simultaneously launch smurf attacks against a remote host this would be classed as a DDoS attack.
A distributed reflected denial of service attack involves sending forged requests of some type to a very large number of computers that will reply to the requests. Using Internet protocol spoofing, the source address is set to that of the targeted victim, which means all the replies will go to (and flood) the target.
ICMP Echo Request attacks (described above) can be considered one form of reflected attack, as the flooding host(s) send Echo Requests to the broadcast addresses of mis-configured networks, thereby enticing a large number of hosts to send Echo Reply packets to the victim. Some early DDoS programs implemented a distributed form of this attack.
Many services can be exploited to act as reflectors, some harder to block than others. DNS amplification attacks involve a new mechanism that increased the amplification affect, using a much larger list of DNS servers than seen earlier.
This describes a situation where a website ends up denied, not due to a deliberate attack by a single individual or group of individuals, but simply due to a sudden enormous spike in popularity. This can happen when an extremely popular website posts a prominent link to a second, less well-prepared site, for example, as part of a news story. The result is that a significant proportion of the primary site's regular users ? potentially hundreds of thousands of people ? click that link in the space of a few hours, having the same effect on the target website as a DDoS attack.
News sites and link sites ? sites whose primary function is to provide links to interesting content elsewhere on the Internet ? are most likely to cause this phenomenon. The canonical example is the Slashdot effect. Sites such as Digg, Fark, Something Awful and the webcomic Penny Arcade have their own corresponding "effects", known as "the Digg effect", "farking", "goonrushing" and "wanging"; respectively.
Routers have also been known to create unintentional DoS attacks, as both D-Link and Netgear routers have created NTP vandalism by flooding NTP servers without respecting the restrictions of client types or geographical limitations.