Cloudflare has announced its 2023 Q1 DDoS report. This report includes insights and trends about the DDoS threat landscape — as observed across the global Cloudflare network.
Threat actors kicked off 2023 with a bang. The start of the year was characterized by a series of hacktivist campaigns against Western targets including banking, airports, healthcare and universities — mainly by the pro-Russian Telegram-organized groups Killnet and more recently by AnonymousSudan.
While Killnet-led and AnonymousSudan-led cyberattacks stole the spotlight, there hasn’t been any novel or exceedingly large attacks by them. Unprotected Internet properties can still be, and have been, taken down by Killnet-led or AnonymousSudan-led cyber campaigns. Organizations should take proactive defensive measures to reduce the risks.
There has been, however, an increase of hyper-volumetric DDoS attacks launched by other threat actors — with the largest one peaking above 71 million requests per second (rps) — exceeding Google’s previous world record of 46M rps by 55%.
Hyper-volumetric attacks leverage a new generation of botnets that are comprised of Virtual Private Servers (VPS) instead of Internet of Things (IoT) devices.
Historically, large botnets relied on exploitable IoT devices such as smart security cameras to orchestrate their attacks. Despite the limited throughput of each IoT device, together — usually numbering in the hundreds of thousands or millions — they generated enough traffic to disrupt their targets.
The new generation of botnets uses a fraction of the amount of devices, but each device is substantially stronger. Cloud computing providers offer virtual private servers to allow startups and businesses to create performant applications. The downside is that it also allows attackers to create high-performance botnets that can be as much as 5,000x stronger. Attackers gain access to virtual private servers by compromising unpatched servers and hacking into management consoles using leaked API credentials.
Cloudflare has been working with key cloud computing providers to crack down on these VPS-based botnets. Substantial portions of such botnets have been disabled thanks to the cloud computing providers’ rapid response and diligence. Since then, Cloudflare has yet to see additional hyper-volumetric attacks — a testament to the fruitful collaboration.
Highlights of the DDoS Report
1. In Q1, 16% of surveyed customers reported a Ransom DDoS attack — remains steady compared to the previous quarter but represents a 60% increase YoY.
2. Non-profit organizations and Broadcast Media were two of the most targeted industries. Finland was the largest source of HTTP DDoS attacks in terms of percentage of attack traffic, and the main target of network-layer DDoS attacks. Israel was the topmost attacked country worldwide by HTTP DDoS attacks.
3. Large scale volumetric DDoS attacks — attacks above 100 Gbps — increased by 6% QoQ. DNS-based attacks became the most popular vector. Similarly, Cloudflare observed surges in SPSS-based DDoS attacks, DNS amplification attacks, and GRE-based DDoS attacks.
Top targeted countries
• Perhaps related to the judicial reform and opposing protests, in Q1, Israel jumps to the first place as the country targeted by the most HTTP DDoS attack traffic — even above the United States of America. This is an astonishing figure. Just short of a single percent of all HTTP traffic that Cloudflare processed in the first quarter of the year, was part of HTTP DDoS attacks that targeted Israeli websites. Following closely behind Israel are the US, Canada, and Turkey.
• In terms of the percentage of attack traffic compared to all traffic to a given country, Slovenia and Georgia came at the top. Approximately 20% of all traffic to Slovenian and Georgian websites were HTTP DDoS attacks. Next in line were the small Caribbean dual-island nation, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Turkey.
• Looking at the total amount of network-layer DDoS attack traffic, China came in first place. Almost 18% of all network-layer DDoS attack traffic came from China. Closely in second, Singapore came in second place with a 17% share. The US came in third, followed by Finland.
• When attacks are normalized to a country by all traffic to that country, Finland jumps to the first place, perhaps due to its newly approved NATO membership. Nearly 83% of all traffic to Finland was network-layer attack traffic. China followed closely with 68% and Singapore again with 49%.
Top targeted industries
• In terms of overall bandwidth, globally, Internet companies saw the largest amount of HTTP DDoS attack traffic. Followed by the Marketing and Advertising industry, Computer Software industry, Gaming / Gambling and Telecommunications.
• By percentage of attack traffic out of total traffic to an industry, Non-profits were the most targeted in the first quarter of the year, followed by Accounting firms. Despite the uptick of attacks on healthcare, it didn’t make it into the top ten. Also up there in the top were Chemicals, Government, and Energy Utilities & Waste industries.
• On a regional scale, the Gaming & Gambling industry was the most targeted in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. In South and Central America, the Banking, Financial Services and Insurance (BFSI) industry was the most targeted. In North America it was the Marketing & Advertising industry followed by Telecommunications — which was also the most attacked industry in Africa. Last by not least, in Oceania, the Health, Wellness and Fitness industry was the most targeted by HTTP DDoS attacks.
Top source countries
• In the first quarter of 2023, Finland was the largest source of HTTP DDoS attacks in terms of the percentage of attack traffic out of all traffic per country. Closely after Finland, the British Virgin Islands came in second place, followed by Libya and Barbados.
• In terms of absolute volumes, the most HTTP DDoS attack traffic came from US IP addresses. China came in second, followed by Germany, Indonesia, Brazil, and Finland.
Attack size and duration
• When looking at the types of attacks that are launched against Cloudflare’s customers and its own network and applications, the company sees that the majority of attacks are short and small; 86% of network-layer DDoS attacks end within 10 minutes, and 91% of attacks never exceed 500 Mbps.
• Only one out of every fifty attacks ever exceeds 10 Gbps, and only one out of every thousand attacks exceeds 100 Gbps.
• Having said that, larger attacks are slowly increasing in quantity and frequency.
• This quarter Cloudflare saw a tectonic shift. With a 22% share, SYN floods moved to the second place, making DNS-based DDoS attacks the most popular attack vector (30%).
• Almost a third of all L3/4 DDoS attacks were DNS-based; either DNS floods or DNS amplification/reflection attacks. Not far behind, UDP-based attacks came in third with a 21% share.
• In the first quarter of 2023, there was a massive surge in SPSS-based DDoS attacks, DNS amplification attacks and GRE-based DDoS attacks. SPSS-based DDoS attacks increased by 1,565% QoQ.
• DNS amplification DDoS attacks increased by 958% QoQ.
• Generic Routing Encapsulation (GRE)-based DDoS attacks increased by 835% QoQ.
SLP: a new DDoS amplification vector in the wild
On April 25, 2023, researchers Pedro Umbelino at Bitsight and Marco Lux at Curesec published their discovery of CVE-2023-29552, a new DDoS reflection/amplification attack vector leveraging the Service Location Protocol (SLP) protocol. Cloudflare expects the prevalence of SLP-based DDoS attacks to rise significantly in the coming weeks as malicious actors learn how to exploit this newly discovered attack vector.
Commenting on the report, Bashar Bashaireh, Managing Director & Head of Sales – Middle East and Türkiye at Cloudflare, “In recent months, there has been an increase in longer and larger DDoS attacks across various industries, with volumetric attacks being particularly prominent. DNS DDoS attacks also became increasingly prevalent. As DDoS attacks are typically carried out by bots, automated detection and mitigation are crucial for effective defense. Cloudflare’s automated systems provide constant protection against DDoS attacks for our customers, allowing them to focus on other aspects of their business. We believe that DDoS protection should be easily accessible to organizations of all sizes, and have been offering free and unlimited protection since 2017.”