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US Unveils DDoS Guidance for Public Sector Resilience

Executive Summary

The US government has announced a comprehensive guide to help public sector organizations strengthen their defenses against Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks.

Amid heightened geopolitical tensions, threat actors often use DDoS attacks to disrupt a country’s services. For example, the Luxembourg government has recently been battling a DDoS attack by Russian hackers. Similarly, the French government also experienced recent DDoS attacks from Russian hackers.

This guide was created due to the increasing regularity and complexity of DDoS attacks. The aim of the guidance is to provide government agencies with the necessary knowledge and tools to protect critical services and maintain operational continuity. Of course, this document is useful for any organization in preparing for DDoS attacks.

Please see the key highlights from the US government’s DDoS guidance document below.

What Is a DDoS Attack?

Before exploring the main points of the document, let’s first see what a DDoS attack is.

A Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attack overwhelms a website or online service with traffic from multiple sources, making it unavailable. It can involve flooding the target with more requests than it can handle. This causes the service to slow down or crash, thus denying access to legitimate users. DDoS attacks exploit the power of numerous compromised computers and devices across the internet to execute a massive, coordinated attack.

Now, let’s continue with the key points from the DDoS guidance document provided by the US government.

DDoS Attack Types

Volume-Based Attacks: Overwhelm the target’s bandwidth or system resources, making it unable to handle legitimate requests.

Protocol-Based Attacks: Target weaknesses in network protocols, affecting performance or causing system malfunction.

Application Layer-Based Attacks: Exploit vulnerabilities in specific applications or services, consuming their resources or causing malfunctions.

Preparing for a DDoS Attack

It’s crucial for an organization’s network defenders to implement best practices to reduce the potential damage of a DDoS attack. Here are some steps to consider:

  • Risk Assessment: Conduct a risk assessment to identify vulnerabilities to DDoS attacks.
  • Network Monitoring and Traffic Analysis: Use tools and analyze traffic to detect unusual patterns indicative of a DDoS attack.
  • Incident Response Plan: Develop a comprehensive plan detailing roles, communication channels, and mitigation strategies.
  • DDoS Mitigation Services: Consider using specialized services to handle large-scale attacks.
  • Redundancy and Failover: Implement redundant infrastructure and failover mechanisms to maintain service availability during an attack. These include:
    • Bandwith capacity planning for increasing your bandwith to handle sudden spikes
    • Load balancing to distribute load during a DDos attack
    • Configuring firewalls to filter out suspicious traffic patterns and block traffic from known malicious IP addresses.
Identifying a DDoS Attack

Indicators of a DDoS attack include:

  • Website or service unavailability,
  • Sudden network congestion,
  • Unusual traffic patterns,
  • Server or application crashes,
  • High resource utilization,
  • Inability to access other network services.

Moreover, a surge in spam emails, malicious emails, or an unusually high number of requests on your website could signal an ongoing DDoS attack. If you are utilizing a DDoS protection service, obviously you might receive a notification from your service provider.

Responding to a DDoS Incident

Here are the key steps outlined in the DDoS guidance document to respond to a DDoS attack:

  • Initial Actions:
    • Identify the Attack: Detect signs of a DDoS attack, such as sudden traffic surges.
    • Activate Incident Response Plan: Execute the pre-established response strategy.
  • Engagement and Communication:
    • Notify Service Providers: Alert ISPs or hosting providers to seek immediate assistance.
    • Communicate Internally and Externally: Maintain open lines of communication with all stakeholders, providing updates on incident status and recovery efforts.
  • Technical Mitigation Actions:
    • Gather Evidence: Document attack details, including timestamps, IP addresses, and traffic patterns.
    • Implement Traffic Filtering: Utilize network tools to sift out malicious traffic.
    • Enable DDoS Mitigation Services: Turn on specialized services to absorb and mitigate the attack.
    • Scale Up Bandwidth and Resources: Augment capacity to manage unexpected traffic volumes.
    • Enable Content Delivery Network (CDN): Leverage CDN services to distribute traffic and minimize load on the primary infrastructure.
  • Learn From the Attack: Conduct a thorough analysis to uncover vulnerabilities, then refine and update security protocols accordingly. Use Mitigations outlined in the MS-ISAC Guide.
Post-Attack Steps

Following a DDoS attack, it’s essential for organizations to quickly recover and strenghten defenses to prevent future incidents. These include:

  • Immediate Response
    • Assess the Impact: Quickly evaluate how the attack affected your systems, networks, and services to understand the extent of the damage.
    • Restore Impacted Services: Prioritize getting any disrupted services back online to resume normal operations.
  • Analysis & Protective Improvements
    • Conduct a Post-Incident Analysis: Analyze the attack to identify how it happened, the vulnerabilities exploited, and the attackers’ methods.
    • Implement Remediation Measures: Address the identified vulnerabilities or weaknesses based on the attack analysis.
    • Review and Update Security Controls: Reassess and optimize existing security measures, ensuring they’re configured to protect against future attacks.
  • Detection Improvements
    • Update the Incident Response Plan: Incorporate lessons learned from the attack to improve your response strategy for future incidents.
    • Enhance Employee Awareness: Train employees on recognizing and responding to cybersecurity threats, emphasizing the importance of security best practices.
    • Strengthen Network Monitoring: Enhance monitoring capabilities to detect and respond to unusual activity swiftly.
  • Response & Recovery Improvements
    • Engage with Law Enforcement: For significant attacks, consider reporting to law enforcement to assist in the investigation and pursuit of perpetrators.
    • Communicate with Stakeholders: Maintain open communication with stakeholders about the incident and the steps taken to resolve it.
    • Backup and Disaster Recovery: Ensure your backup and disaster recovery plans are up-to-date and effective in quickly restoring data and services.
  • Continuous Improvement: Remain vigilant to evolving DDoS threats and continuously refine your security posture in response to new information.

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