Category Archives: DDoS

Ransomware and DDoS is on the Rise: Tips for Distance Learning in 2021

Ransomware Alert

Ransomware and DDoS is on the Rise: Tips for Distance Learning in 2021

The holidays have come and gone, and students returned to the virtual classroom. But according to the FBI, cyberattacks are likely to disrupt online learning in the new year. As of December 2020, the FBI, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), and MS-ISAC continue to receive reports from K-12 educational institutions about the disruptions caused by cyberthreats, primarily ransomware and Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS). To protect their education and digital lives, distance learners will need to stay vigilant when it comes to ransomware and DDoS attacks. Let’s dive into the impact these threats have on the K-12 education system now that more people are plugged in as a result of distance learning.

Hackers Hold Education for Ransom

Of all the attacks plaguing K-12 schools this year, ransomware has been a particularly aggressive threat. Ransomware attacks typically block access to a computer system or files until the victim pays a certain amount of money or “ransom.” The FBI and the CISA issued a warning that showed a nearly 30% increase in ransomware attacks against schools. In August and September, 57% of ransomware incidents involved K-12 schools, compared to 28% of all reported ransomware incidents from January through July. And it’s unlikely that hackers will let up anytime soon. Baltimore County’s school system was recently shut down by a ransomware attack that hit all of its network systems and closed schools for several days for about 111,000 students. It wasn’t until last week that school officials could finally regain access to files they feared were lost forever, including student transcripts, first-quarter grades, and vital records for children in special education programs.

According to to ZDNet, the five most active ransomware groups targeting K-12 schools are Ryuk, Maze, Nefilim, AKO, and Sodinokibi/REvil. Furthermore, all five of these ransomware families are known to run “leak sites,” where they dump data from victims who don’t pay the ransom. This creates a particularly dangerous problem of having student data published online. To prevent distance learning disruption, students and educators need to understand the effects of ransomware on school systems and take steps to prevent the damage caused by this threat.

DDoS Attacks Disrupt the Distance Learning

An increase in ransomware attacks isn’t the only problem that K-12 schools are facing. The CISA and the FBI warned those participating in distance learning to protect themselves against other forms of cyberattacks such as Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS). DDoS is a method where hackers flood a network with so much traffic that it cannot operate or communicate as it normally would.

According to Dark Reading, Miami-Dade County Public Schools experienced significant disruptions during their first three days of distance learning for the 2020-2021 school year, thanks to a series of DDoS attacks. The school system stated it had already experienced more than a dozen DDoS attacks since the start of the school year. Sandwich Public Schools in Massachusetts were also knocked offline by a DDoS attack. When school systems fall victim to DDoS attacks, students can lose access to essential documents, files, or online platforms that they need to complete assignments. And with many students relying heavily on distance learning systems, losing access could put them behind.

Delete Disruptions: Follow These Security Tips

In an effort to create a standardized framework for dealing with ransomware attacks across verticals – including education – McAfee has teamed up with Microsoft to lead the Ransomware Task Force, along with 17 other security firms, tech companies, and non-profits. And while we’re taking critical actions to decrease the threat of ransomware attacks, there are other steps you can take to prevent ransomware and DDoS attacks from interrupting your distance learning experience. Follow these tips to take charge of your education and live your digital life free from worry:

Don’t pay the ransom

Many ransom notes seem convincing, and many only request small, seemingly doable amounts of money. Nevertheless, you should never pay the ransom. Paying does not promise you’ll get your information back, and many victims often don’t. So, no matter how desperate you are for your files, hold off on paying up.

Do a complete backup 

With ransomware attacks locking away crucial data, it’s important to back up your files on all your machines. If a device becomes infected with ransomware, there’s no promise you’ll get that data back. Ensure you cover all your bases and have your data stored on an external hard drive or in the cloud.

Use decryption tools

No More Ransom – an initiative that teams up security firms, including McAfee, and law enforcement – provides tools to free your data, each tailored for a specific type of ransomware. If your device gets held for ransom, start by researching what type of ransomware it is. Then, check out No More Ransom’s decryption tools and see if one is available for your specific strain.

Secure your router

Your Wi-Fi router is the gateway to your network. Secure it by changing the default password. If you aren’t sure how to do this, consult the internet for instructions on how to do it for your specific make and model, or call the manufacturer. Solutions like McAfee Secure Home Platform, which is embedded within select routers, can help you easily manage and protect your network from DDoS attacks and more.

Change default passwords on IoT devices

A lot of internet of things (IoT) devices come with default usernames and passwords. After taking your IoT device out of the box, the first thing you should do is change those default credentials. If you’re unsure of how to change the default setting on your IoT device, refer to setup instructions or do a bit of research online.

Stay Updated

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Top Five Most Infamous DDoS Attacks

Guest article by Adrian Taylor, Regional VP of Sales for A10 Networks 

Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks are now everyday occurrences. Whether you’re a small non-profit or a huge multinational conglomerate, your online services—email, websites, anything that faces the internet—can be slowed or completely stopped by a DDoS attack. Moreover, DDoS attacks are sometimes used to distract your cybersecurity operations while other criminal activity, such as data theft or network infiltration, is underway. 
Why are DDoS attacks bigger and more frequent than ever?
DDoS attacks are getting bigger and more frequent
The first known Distributed Denial of Service attack occurred in 1996 when Panix, now one of the oldest internet service providers, was knocked offline for several days by an SYN flood, a technique that has become a classic DDoS attack. Over the next few years, DDoS attacks became common and Cisco predicts that the total number of DDoS attacks will double from the 7.9 million seen in 2018 to something over 15 million by 2023.

But it’s not just the number of DDoS attacks that are increasing; as the bad guys are creating ever bigger botnets – the term for the armies of hacked devices that are used to generate DDoS traffic. As the botnets get bigger, the scale of DDoS attacks is also increasing. A Distributed Denial of Service attack of one gigabit per second is enough to knock most organisations off the internet but we’re now seeing peak attack sizes in excess of one terabit per second generated by hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of suborned devices. Given that IT services downtime costs companies anywhere from $300,000 to over $1,000,000 per hour, you can see that the financial hit from even a short DDoS attack could seriously damage your bottom line.

So we’re going to take a look at some of the most notable DDoS attacks to date. Our choices include some DDoS attacks that are famous for their sheer scale while others are because of their impact and consequences.

1. The AWS DDoS Attack in 2020
Amazon Web Services, the 800-pound gorilla of everything cloud computing, was hit by a gigantic DDoS attack in February 2020. This was the most extreme recent DDoS attack ever and it targeted an unidentified AWS customer using a technique called Connectionless Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (CLDAP) Reflection. This technique relies on vulnerable third-party CLDAP servers and amplifies the amount of data sent to the victim’s IP address by 56 to 70 times. The attack lasted for three days and peaked at an astounding 2.3 terabytes per second. While the disruption caused by the AWS DDoS Attack was far less severe than it could have been, the sheer scale of the attack and the implications for AWS hosting customers potentially losing revenue and suffering brand damage is significant.

2. The MiraiKrebs and OVH DDoS Attacks in 2016
On September 20, 2016, the blog of cybersecurity expert Brian Krebs was assaulted by a DDoS attack in excess of 620 Gbps, which at the time, was the largest attack ever seen. Krebs had recorded 269 DDoS attacks since July 2012, but this attack was almost three times bigger than anything his site or, for that matter, the internet had seen before.

The source of the attack was the Mirai botnet, which, at its peak later that year, consisted of more than 600,000 compromised Internet of Things (IoT) devices such as IP cameras, home routers, and video players. Mirai had been discovered in August that same year but the attack on Krebs’ blog was its first big outing.

The next Mirai attack on September 19 targeted one of the largest European hosting providers, OVH, which hosts roughly 18 million applications for over one million clients. This attack was on a single undisclosed OVH customer and driven by an estimated 145,000 bots, generating a traffic load of up to 1.1 terabits per second, and lasted about seven days. The Mirai botnet was a significant step up in how powerful a DDoS attack could be. The size and sophistication of the Mirai network were unprecedented, as was the scale of the attacks and their focus.

3. The MiraiDyn DDoS Attack in 2016
Before we discuss the third notable Mirai DDoS attack of 2016, there’s one related event that should be mentioned: On September 30, someone claiming to be the author of the Mirai software released the source code on various hacker forums and the Mirai DDoS platform has been replicated and mutated scores of times since.

On October 21, 2016, Dyn, a major Domain Name Service (DNS) provider, was assaulted by a one terabit per second traffic flood that then became the new record for a DDoS attack. There’s some evidence that the DDoS attack may have actually achieved a rate of 1.5 terabits per second. The traffic tsunami knocked Dyn’s services offline rendering a number of high-profile websites including GitHub, HBO, Twitter, Reddit, PayPal, Netflix, and Airbnb, inaccessible. Kyle York, Dyn’s chief strategy officer, reported, “We observed 10s of millions of discrete IP addresses associated with the Mirai botnet that were part of the attack.”

Mirai supports complex, multi-vector attacks that make mitigation difficult. Even though Mirai was responsible for the biggest assaults up to that time, the most notable thing about the 2016 Mirai attacks was the release of the Mirai source code enabling anyone with modest information technology skills to create a botnet and mount a Distributed Denial of Service attack without much effort.

4. The Six Banks DDoS Attack in 2012
On March 12, 2012, six U.S. banks were targeted by a wave of DDoS attacks—Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, U.S. Bank, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and PNC Bank. The attacks were carried out by hundreds of hijacked servers from a botnet called Brobot with each attack generating over 60 gigabits of DDoS attack traffic per second.

At the time, these attacks were unique in their persistence: Rather than trying to execute one attack and then backing down, the perpetrators barraged their targets with a multitude of attack methods in order to find one that worked. So, even if a bank was equipped to deal with a few types of DDoS attacks, they were helpless against other types of attack.

The most remarkable aspect of the bank attacks in 2012 was that the attacks were, allegedly, carried out by the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Palestinian Hamas organisation. Moreover, the attacks had a huge impact on the affected banks in terms of revenue, mitigation expenses, customer service issues, and the banks’ branding and image.

5. The GitHub Attack in 2018
On Feb. 28, 2018, GitHub—a platform for software developers—was hit with a DDoS attack that clocked in at 1.35 terabits per second and lasted for roughly 20 minutes. According to GitHub, the traffic was traced back to “over a thousand different autonomous systems (ASNs) across tens of thousands of unique endpoints.

Even though GitHub was well prepared for a DDoS attack their defences were overwhelmed—they simply had no way of knowing that an attack of this scale would be launched.

The GitHub DDoS attack was notable for its scale and the fact that the attack was staged by exploiting a standard command of Memcached, a database caching system for speeding up websites and networks. The Memcached DDoS attack technique is particularly effective as it provides an amplification factor – the ratio of the attacker’s request size to the amount of DDoS attack traffic generated – of up to a staggering 51,200 times.

And that concludes our top five line up – it is a sobering insight into just how powerful, persistent and disruptive DDoS attacks have become.