Arbor Networks warns of IP-Killer, MP-DDoser DDoS tool

Arbor Networks researchers found robust capabilities in the MP-DDoser/IP-Killer tool used to conduct powerful distributed denial-of-service attacks.

Researchers at network security vendor Arbor Networks are warning of an increasingly strengthening tool being used by cybercriminals to conduct powerful distributed denial-of-service attacks (DDoS).

The key management is quite good, and the buggy DDoS attacks are not only fixed, but now include at least one technique … that may be considered reasonably cutting edge.

Jeff Edwards, research analyst, Arbor Networks

The tool, called MP-DDoser or IP-Killer, was first detected in December 2011 and, according to Jeff Edwards, a research analyst at Chemlsford, Mass.-based Arbor Networks Inc., the tool’s authors are making progress in eliminating flaws and adding improvements.   The active development is boosting the tool’s attack capabilities and advancing its encryption algorithm to protect its botnet communications mechanism. Arbor released a report analyzing MP-DDoser’s (.pdf) capabilities and improvements.

“The key management is quite good, and the buggy DDoS attacks are not only fixed, but now include at least one technique … that may be considered reasonably cutting edge,” wrote Edwards, a member of Arbor’s security engineering and response team, in a blog entry Thursday.

Edwards said the “Apache Killer” technique, which can be deployed by the tool, is designed to flood requests to Apache Web servers, overwhelming the memory and ultimately causing it to crash. The technique is considered low-bandwidth, making it difficult to filter out the bad requests. A less successful form of the attack was used by a previous botnet, Edwards said, but the MP-DDoser authors appear to have incorporated it with some improvements.

“A review of the [IP-Killer] bot’s assembly code indicates that it does indeed appear to be a fully functional, working implementation of the Apache Killer attack,” Edwards wrote. “It is therefore one of the more effective low-bandwidth, ‘asymmetrical’ HTTP attacks at the moment.”

Asymmetric DDoS attacks typically use less-powerful packets to consume resources or alter network components, according to the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT). Attacks are meant to overwhelm the CPU and system memory of a network device, according to US-CERT.

The steady increase and easily obtainable automated DDoS attack tools have put the attack technique in the hands of less-savvy cybercriminals. Arbor Networks’ Worldwide Infrastructure Report 2012 detailed a steady increase in powerful attacks over the last five years. The report, which surveyed 114 service providers, found that lower-bandwidth sophisticated attacks like MP-DDoser are becoming alarming.

MP-DDoser, IP-Killer botnet communications improvements
The MP-DDoser botnet does not spread spam or malware, making it more effective at conducting DDoS campaigns, according to Edwards.

The authors of MP-DDoser are also employing encryption and key management as part of network communications, Edwards said. Encrypting communications is becoming more common in malware to make it more difficult for investigators to trace the transmissions between the bot and the command-and-control server. Edwards called the MP-DDoser author’s use of encryption a “home brew” algorithm, making decryption even more difficult for researchers.

“All in all, MP-DDoser uses some of the better key management we have seen. But of course, at the end of the day, every bot has to contain – or be able to generate – its own key string in order to communicate with its C&C, so no matter how many layers of encryption our adversary piles on, they can always be peeled off one by one,” Edwards wrote.

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