Sunday, February 9, 2014

US Cert Alert (TA14-017A) UDP-based Amplification Attacks

Systems Affected

Certain UDP protocols have been identified as potential attack vectors:
Quake Network Protocol
Steam Protocol

A Distributed Reflective Denial of Service (DRDoS) attack is an emerging form of Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) that relies on the use of publicly accessible UDP servers, as well as bandwidth amplification factors, to overwhelm a victim system with UDP traffic.

UDP, by design, is a connection-less protocol that does not validate source IP addresses. Unless the application-layer protocol uses countermeasures such as session initiation, it is very easy to forge the IP packet datagram to include an arbitrary source IP address [7]. When many UDP packets have their source IP address forged to a single address, the server responds to that victim, creating a reflected Denial of Service (DoS) Attack.

Recently, certain UDP protocols have been found to have particular responses to certain commands that are much larger than the initial request. Where before, attackers were limited linearly by the number of packets directly sent to the target to conduct a DoS attack, now a single packet can generate tens or hundreds of times the bandwidth in its response. This is called an amplification attack, and when combined with a reflective DoS attack on a large scale it makes it relatively easy to conduct DDoS attacks.

To measure the potential effect of an amplification attack, we use a metric called the bandwidth amplification factor (BAF). BAF can be calculated as the number of UDP payload bytes that an amplifier sends to answer a request, compared to the number of UDP payload bytes of the request.

The list of known protocols, and their associated bandwidth amplification factors, is listed below. US-CERT would like to offer thanks to Christian Rossow for providing this information to us.
ProtocolBandwidth Amplification FactorVulnerable Command
DNS28 to 54see: TA13-088A [1]
NTP556.9see: TA14-013A [2]
SNMPv26.3GetBulk request
NetBIOS3.8Name resolution
SSDP30.8SEARCH requestCharGEN 358.8 Character generation request
QOTD 140.3 Quote request
BitTorrent 3.8 File search
Kad 16.3 Peer list exchange
Quake Network Protocol 63.9 Server info exchange
Steam Protocol 5.5 Server info exchange

Attackers can utilize the bandwidth and relative trust of large servers that provide the above UDP protocols to flood victims with unwanted traffic, a DDoS attack.


Detection of DRDoS attacks is not easy, due to their use of large, trusted servers that provide UDP services. As a victim, traditional DoS mitigation techniques may apply.

As a network operator of one of these exploitable services, look for abnormally large responses to a particular IP address. This may indicate that an attacker is using your service to conduct a DRDoS attack.