Using blockchain tech in the war against DDoS onslaughts

Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks are certainly on the rise. Arbor’s 13th Annual Worldwide Infrastructure Security Report showed that 33 percent of surveyed organisations suffered a DDoS attack in 2017 (this is sharply up from the previous year’s 17 percent).

The modus operandi is elegantly simple: DDoS attackers infect large numbers of devices with malware (it could be smartphones, computers, or any other form of connected device), mutating them into bots that are then used to flood the servers of the victim organisation.

The aim of a DDoS attack is to overwhelm the target website’s server with massive volumes of traffic and cause it to crash. Companies that rely heavily on their digital presence experience a loss of business, and of course the reputational damage associated with ‘being down’.

Bryan Hamman, territory manager for sub-Saharan Africa at Arbor Networks, says that technology like Arbor’s has been continually refined over the years, “to deal with each subtle new DDoS tactic and stay one step ahead of the attackers.

“Today, blockchain represents an exciting new technology that could have a huge impact on how we as a security industry go about protecting clients from DDoS threats,” he explains.

Distributing bandwidth

Blockchain, also called ‘distributed ledgers’, is essentially a computing platform that has no single point of failure, where records of transactions and interactions can be stored across vast numbers of computers. Nobody ‘owns’ the database. No one person is able to control or manipulate it.

The distributed ledger is dispersed throughout the internet, allowing for the fluid (but also secure) sharing and validating of information. Due to the very structure of the platform, only authorised parties are able to create records for the part of the ‘chain’ that relates to their transactions. The broader blockchain community then witnesses and verifies the transaction – preventing it from being lost, tampered with or corrupted in any way.

It allows for the sharing of value and information through a nearly-incorruptible digital ledger.

Hamman says that “one such asset could be unutilized bandwidth that a company could ‘rent’ to other companies that are suffering from DDoS attacks at a given moment, to help absorb the effects of the malicious traffic.”

In this way, organisations could purchase additional bandwidth only when they need it to defend against attacks.

“A number of innovative start-ups are exploring how the blockchain can be harnessed, to enable thousands of computers across the world to share their excess bandwidth across peer-to-peer networks, while facilitating seamless cryptocurrency payments for these transactions,” he clarifies.

Reducing the attack vectors

Others are exploring how blockchain infrastructure could enable us to build global databases of all the IP addresses that are used in the various DDoS attacks taking place on any day, Hamman says.

“Using smart contract enabled by distributed ledger technology, this verified database could help DDoS defence software to identify emerging threats, and keep up to date with real-time insights into the addresses that are currently being used to launch attacks.”

Even within the enterprise, blockchain technology can be applied to create a decentralised network of servers – with each one providing extra bandwidth resources when a particular server comes under pressure from DDoS traffic. Industry website* explains that “because blockchain is a decentralised service, it’s harder for attackers to target a specific vector to attack to take a particular service offline.”

Hamman says that, in general, security professionals have been very quick to imagine and start capturing the advantages of distributed ledger technology.

“It is a network construct that combines some very powerful innovations – sequential hashing and cryptography, combined with a decentralised foundation – which make distributed ledgers a very attractive proposition for cyber-security experts.”

In the specific area of DDoS, he says specialists like Arbor are actively exploring how blockchain (as well as other ‘frontier’ technologies like artificial intelligence) can further bolster the defences that they provide to clients.

“As DDoS threats continually morph, we’ll make use of the very latest available technologies, to always remain one step ahead of the threats.”