This Year, DDoS Attacks Are Shorter, Hit Harder And Aim At Things Like Shopping Carts

Written by Frank Hayes
October 18th, 2012

With the big holiday distributed denial-of-service season coming up quickly for retailers’ E-Commerce sites (“Merry SYN flood to all!”), here’s a little bit of cheery news: Brute-force DDoS attacks are getting shorter in duration than in years past—even though the actual blast during a brute-force DDoS can get as high as 65 Gbps. And although last year attackers were starting to target routers instead of Web servers, this year they’re aiming lower—and much more often going after things like the lowly shopping cart.

Unfortunately, with those so-called “low and slow” attacks—which require a lot less firepower from attackers but can still crash your site—brute-force DDoS defenses won’t work. Your E-Commerce and network security teams may need to take a lesson from associates and loss prevention in thinking about online defense.

There are still plenty of brute-force attacks. Security vendor Prolexic said in a quarterly report released on Wednesday (Oct. 17) that the total number of DDoS attacks hitting its customers was up 88 percent from a year ago, although the average attack length dropped to 19 hours, from 33 hours last year. Average attack bandwidth more than tripled, to 4.9 Gbps, but some attacks ran much hotter. And attacks that averaged 20 Gbps are no longer uncommon, Prolexic reported.

In other words, defending against those attacks requires stronger defenses against shorter attacks. That’s easy enough for most security teams to grasp. It’s just one more iteration of the firewall and security-appliance arms race.

But the new rise in low-and-slow attacks? That’s going to require rethinking your strategy.

Case in point: the “basket stuffer” attack, in which the attacker writes a script that puts as many items as possible into a shopping cart. Eventually, that’s likely to bring the shopping-cart system to its knees.

“Adversaries don’t even have to know why the attack works,” said Andy Ellis, chief security officer at Akamai. “They can guess that programmers will assume there will never be more than 20 or 30 items in the basket.” Stuffing in hundreds of items? That by itself may overrun the cart’s allotted space.

If that doesn’t do it, there’s also the processing that has to happen for each item—beginning with saving the state of the cart after each item is added. Then there are all the nice elements you’ve added to make your site more interactive. “Business rules can bite you,” Ellis adds. “Every one has to process every time.” Recommendation engines are triggered, loyalty information is collected, and all that chews up processing power. The faster items are added, the more CPU time is chewed up—and the more likely it is that processes will stumble over each other. “It’s all about causing you to use resources,” Ellis says.

One way or another, if an attacker successfully stuffs hundreds of items into a shopping cart fast enough, it will fail.

Best of all, from the attacker’s point of view: The attack is invisible.


Comments are closed.


StorefrontBacktalk delivers the latest retail technology news & analysis. Join more than 60,000 retail IT leaders who subscribe to our free weekly email. Sign up today!

Most Recent Comments

Why Did Gonzales Hackers Like European Cards So Much Better?

I am still unclear about the core point here-- why higher value of European cards. Supply and demand, yes, makes sense. But the fact that the cards were chip and pin (EMV) should make them less valuable because that demonstrably reduces the ability to use them fraudulently. Did the author mean that the chip and pin cards could be used in a country where EMV is not implemented--the US--and this mis-match make it easier to us them since the issuing banks may not have as robust anti-fraud controls as non-EMV banks because they assumed EMV would do the fraud prevention for them Read more...
Two possible reasons that I can think of and have seen in the past - 1) Cards issued by European banks when used online cross border don't usually support AVS checks. So, when a European card is used with a billing address that's in the US, an ecom merchant wouldn't necessarily know that the shipping zip code doesn't match the billing code. 2) Also, in offline chip countries the card determines whether or not a transaction is approved, not the issuer. In my experience, European issuers haven't developed the same checks on authorization requests as US issuers. So, these cards might be more valuable because they are more likely to get approved. Read more...
A smart card slot in terminals doesn't mean there is a reader or that the reader is activated. Then, activated reader or not, the U.S. processors don't have apps certified or ready to load into those terminals to accept and process smart card transactions just yet. Don't get your card(t) before the terminal (horse). Read more...
The marketplace does speak. More fraud capacity translates to higher value for the stolen data. Because nearly 100% of all US transactions are authorized online in real time, we have less fraud regardless of whether the card is Magstripe only or chip and PIn. Hence, $10 prices for US cards vs $25 for the European counterparts. Read more...
@David True. The European cards have both an EMV chip AND a mag stripe. Europeans may generally use the chip for their transactions, but the insecure stripe remains vulnerable to skimming, whether it be from a false front on an ATM or a dishonest waiter with a handheld skimmer. If their stripe is skimmed, the track data can still be cloned and used fraudulently in the United States. If European banks only detect fraud from 9-5 GMT, that might explain why American criminals prefer them over American bank issued cards, who have fraud detection in place 24x7. Read more...

Our apologies. Due to legal and security copyright issues, we can't facilitate the printing of Premium Content. If you absolutely need a hard copy, please contact customer service.