|By Lori MacVittie||
|May 1, 2014 09:00 AM EDT||
This week's "bad news" with respect to information security centers on Facebook and the exploitation of HTTP caches to affect a DDoS attack. Reported as a 'vulnerability', this exploit takes advantage of the way the application protocol is designed to work. In fact, the same author who reports the Facebook 'vulnerability' has also shown you can use Google to do the same thing. Just about any site that enables you to submit content containing links and then retrieves those links for you (for caching purposes) could be used in this way. It's not unique to Facebook or Google, for that matter, they just have the perfect environment to make such an exploit highly effective.
The exploit works by using a site (in this case Facebook) to load content and takes advantage of the general principle of amplification to effectively DDoS a third-party site. This is a flood-based like attack, meaning it's attempting to overwhelm a server by flooding it with requests that voraciously consume server-side resources and slow everyone down - to the point of forcing it to appear "down" to legitimate users.
The requests brokered by Facebook are themselves 110% legitimate requests. The requests for an image (or PDF or large video file) are well-formed, and nothing about the requests on an individual basis could be detected as being an attack. This is, in part, why the exploit works: because the individual requests are wholly legitimate requests.
How it Works
The trigger for the "attack" is the caching service. Caches are generally excellent at, well, caching static objects with well-defined URIs. A cache doesn't have a problem finding /myimage.png. It's either there, or it's not and the cache has to go to origin to retrieve it. Where things get more difficult is when requests for content are dynamic; that is, they send parameters that the origin server interprets to determine which image to send, e.g. /myimage?id=30. This is much like an old developer trick to force the reload of dynamic content when browser or server caches indicate a match on the URL. By tacking on a random query parameter, you can "trick" the browser and the server into believing it's a brand new object, and it will go to origin to retrieve it - even though the query parameter is never used. That's where the exploit comes in.
HTTP servers accept as part of the definition of a URI any number of variable query parameters. Those parameters can be ignored or used at the discretion of the application. But when the HTTP server is looking to see if that content has been served already, it does look at those parameters. The reference for a given object is its URL, and thus tacking on a query parameter forces (or tricks if you prefer) the HTTP server to believe the object has never been served before and thus can't be retrieved from a cache.
Caches act on the same principles as an HTTP server because when you get down to brass tacks, a cache is a very specialized HTTP server, focused on mirroring content so it's closer to the user.
<img src=http://target.com/file?r=1> <img src=http://target.com/file?r=2> <img src=http://target.com/file?r=3> ... <img src=http://target.com/file?r=1000>
Many, many, many, many (repeat as necessary) web applications are built using such models. Whether to retrieve text-based content or images is irrelevant to the cache. The cache looks at the request and, if it can't match it somehow, it's going to go to origin.
Which is what's possible with Facebook Notes and Google. By taking advantage of (exploiting) this design principle, if a note crafted with multiple image objects retrieved via a dynamic query is viewed by enough users at the same time, the origin can become overwhelmed or its network oversubscribed.
This is what makes it an exploit, not a vulnerability. There's nothing wrong with the behavior of these caches - they are working exactly as they were designed to act with respect to HTTP. The problem is that when the protocol and caching behavior was defined, such abusive behavior was not considered.
In other words, this is a protocol exploit not specific to Facebook (or Google). In fact, similar exploits have been used to launch attacks in the past. For example, consider some noise raised around WordPress in March 2014 that indicated it was being used to attack other sites by bypassing the cache and forcing a full reload from the origin server:
If you notice, all queries had a random value (like “?4137049=643182″) that bypassed their cache and force a full page reload every single time. It was killing their server pretty quickly.
But the most interesting part is that all the requests were coming from valid and legitimate WordPress sites. Yes, other WordPress sites were sending that random requests at a very large scale and bringing the site down.
The WordPress exploit was taking advantage of the way "pingbacks" work. Attackers were using sites to add pingbacks to amplify an attack on a third party site (also, ironically, a WordPress site).
It's not just Facebook, or Google - it's inherent in the way caching is designed to work.
Not Just HTTP
This isn't just an issue with HTTP. We can see similar behavior in a DNS exploit that renders DNS caching ineffective as protection against certain attack types. In the DNS case, querying a cache with a random host name results in a query to the authoritative (origin) DNS service. If you send enough random host names at the cache, eventually the DNS service is going to feel the impact and possibly choke.
In general, these types of exploits are based on protocol and well-defined system behavior. A cache is, by design, required to either return a matching object if found or go to the origin server if it is not. In both the HTTP and DNS case, the caching services are acting properly and as one would expect.
The problem is that this proper behavior can be exploited to affect a DDoS attack - against third-parties in the case of Facebook/Google and against the domain owner in the case of DNS.
These are not vulnerabilities, they are protocol exploits. This same "vulnerability" is probably present in most architectures that include caching. The difference is that Facebook's ginormous base of users allows for what is expected behavior to quickly turn into what looks like an attack.
The general consensus right now is the best way to mitigate this potential "attack" is to identify and either rate limit or disallow requests coming from Facebook's crawlers by IP address. In essence, the suggestion is to blacklist Facebook (and perhaps Google) to keep it from potentially overwhelming your site.
The author noted in his post regarding this exploit that:
Facebook crawler shows itself as facebookexternalhit. Right now it seems there is no other choice than to block it in order to avoid this nuisance.
The post was later updated to note that blocking by agent may not be enough, hence the consensus on IP-based blacklisting.
The problem is that attackers could simply find another site with a large user base (there are quite a few of them out there with the users to support a successful attack) and find the right mix of queries to bypass the cache (cause caches are a pretty standard part of a web-scale infrastructure) and voila! Instant attack.
Blocking Facebook isn't going to stop other potential attacks and it might seriously impede revenue generating strategies that rely on Facebook as a channel. Rate limiting based on inbound query volume for specific content will help mitigate the impact (and ensure legitimate requests continue to be served) but this requires some service to intermediate and monitor inbound requests and, upon seeing behavior indicative of a potential attack, the ability to intercede or apply the appropriate rate limiting policy. Such a policy could go further and blacklist IP addresses showing sudden increases in requests or simply blocking requests for the specified URI in question - returning instead some other content.
Another option would be to use a caching solution capable of managing dynamic content. For example, F5 Dynamic Caching includes the ability to designate parameters as either indicative of new content or not. That is, the caching service can be configured to ignore some (or all) parameters and serve content out of cache instead of hammering on the origin server.
Let's say the URI for an image was: /directory/images/dog.gif?ver=1;sz=728X90 where valid query parameters are "ver" (version) and "sz" (size). A policy can be configured to recognize "ver" as indicative of different content while all other query parameters indicate the same content and can be served out of cache. With this kind of policy an attacker could send any combination of the following and the same image would be served from cache, even though "sz" is different and there are random additional query parameters.
/directory/images/dog.gif?ver=1;sz=728X90; id=1234 /directory/images/dog.gif?ver=1;sz=728X900; id=123456 /directory/images/dog.gif?ver=1;sz=728X90; cid=1234
By placing an application fluent cache service in front of your origin servers, when Facebook (or Google) comes knocking, you're able to handle the load.
There have been no reports of an attack stemming from this exploitable condition in Facebook Notes or Google, so blacklisting crawlers from either Facebook or Google seems premature. Given that this condition is based on protocol behavior and system design and not a vulnerability unique to Facebook (or Google), though, it would be a good idea to have a plan in place to address, should such an attack actually occur - from there or some other site.
You should review your own architecture and evaluate its ability to withstand a sudden influx of dynamic requests for content like this, and put into place an operational plan for dealing with it should such an event occur.
For more information on protecting against all types of DDoS attacks, check out a new infographic we’ve put together here.
20th Cloud Expo, taking place June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud strategy.
Jan. 17, 2017 11:45 AM EST Reads: 4,168
SYS-CON Events announced today that Super Micro Computer, Inc., a global leader in Embedded and IoT solutions, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Supermicro (NASDAQ: SMCI), the leading innovator in high-performance, high-efficiency server technology, is a premier provider of advanced server Building Block Solutions® for Data Center, Cloud Computing, Enterprise IT, Hadoop/Big Data, HPC and E...
Jan. 17, 2017 11:45 AM EST Reads: 5,698
SYS-CON Events announced today that Linux Academy, the foremost online Linux and cloud training platform and community, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Linux Academy was founded on the belief that providing high-quality, in-depth training should be available at an affordable price. Industry leaders in quality training, provided services, and student certification passes, its goal is to c...
Jan. 17, 2017 11:45 AM EST Reads: 1,898
The unique combination of Amazon Web Services and Cloud Raxak, a Gartner Cool Vendor in IT Automation, provides a seamless and cost-effective way of securely moving on-premise IT workloads to Amazon Web Services. Any enterprise can now leverage the cloud, manage risk, and maintain continuous security compliance. Forrester's analysis shows that enterprises need automated security to lower security risk and decrease IT operational costs. Through the seamless integration into Amazon Web Services, ...
Jan. 17, 2017 11:30 AM EST Reads: 1,741
IoT is at the core or many Digital Transformation initiatives with the goal of re-inventing a company's business model. We all agree that collecting relevant IoT data will result in massive amounts of data needing to be stored. However, with the rapid development of IoT devices and ongoing business model transformation, we are not able to predict the volume and growth of IoT data. And with the lack of IoT history, traditional methods of IT and infrastructure planning based on the past do not app...
Jan. 17, 2017 11:15 AM EST Reads: 420
In his session at DevOps Summit, Tapabrata Pal, Director of Enterprise Architecture at Capital One, will tell a story about how Capital One has embraced Agile and DevOps Security practices across the Enterprise – driven by Enterprise Architecture; bringing in Development, Operations and Information Security organizations together. Capital Ones DevOpsSec practice is based upon three "pillars" – Shift-Left, Automate Everything, Dashboard Everything. Within about three years, from 100% waterfall, C...
Jan. 17, 2017 10:45 AM EST Reads: 9,392
In the next five to ten years, millions, if not billions of things will become smarter. This smartness goes beyond connected things in our homes like the fridge, thermostat and fancy lighting, and into heavily regulated industries including aerospace, pharmaceutical/medical devices and energy. “Smartness” will embed itself within individual products that are part of our daily lives. We will engage with smart products - learning from them, informing them, and communicating with them. Smart produc...
Jan. 17, 2017 10:30 AM EST Reads: 1,621
Due of the rise of Hadoop, many enterprises are now deploying their first small clusters of 10 to 20 servers. At this small scale, the complexity of operating the cluster looks and feels like general data center servers. It is not until the clusters scale, as they inevitably do, when the pain caused by the exponential complexity becomes apparent. We've seen this problem occur time and time again. In his session at Big Data Expo, Greg Bruno, Vice President of Engineering and co-founder of StackIQ...
Jan. 17, 2017 10:30 AM EST Reads: 7,689
Why do your mobile transformations need to happen today? Mobile is the strategy that enterprise transformation centers on to drive customer engagement. In his general session at @ThingsExpo, Roger Woods, Director, Mobile Product & Strategy – Adobe Marketing Cloud, covered key IoT and mobile trends that are forcing mobile transformation, key components of a solid mobile strategy and explored how brands are effectively driving mobile change throughout the enterprise.
Jan. 17, 2017 10:00 AM EST Reads: 5,739
Containers have changed the mind of IT in DevOps. They enable developers to work with dev, test, stage and production environments identically. Containers provide the right abstraction for microservices and many cloud platforms have integrated them into deployment pipelines. DevOps and containers together help companies achieve their business goals faster and more effectively. In his session at DevOps Summit, Ruslan Synytsky, CEO and Co-founder of Jelastic, reviewed the current landscape of Dev...
Jan. 17, 2017 09:30 AM EST Reads: 4,064
Smart Cities are here to stay, but for their promise to be delivered, the data they produce must not be put in new siloes. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Mathias Herberts, Co-founder and CTO of Cityzen Data, discussed the best practices that will ensure a successful smart city journey.
Jan. 17, 2017 08:00 AM EST Reads: 1,949
WebRTC sits at the intersection between VoIP and the Web. As such, it poses some interesting challenges for those developing services on top of it, but also for those who need to test and monitor these services. In his session at WebRTC Summit, Tsahi Levent-Levi, co-founder of testRTC, reviewed the various challenges posed by WebRTC when it comes to testing and monitoring and on ways to overcome them.
Jan. 17, 2017 07:45 AM EST Reads: 5,892
For basic one-to-one voice or video calling solutions, WebRTC has proven to be a very powerful technology. Although WebRTC’s core functionality is to provide secure, real-time p2p media streaming, leveraging native platform features and server-side components brings up new communication capabilities for web and native mobile applications, allowing for advanced multi-user use cases such as video broadcasting, conferencing, and media recording.
Jan. 17, 2017 07:00 AM EST Reads: 6,768
Every successful software product evolves from an idea to an enterprise system. Notably, the same way is passed by the product owner's company. In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Oleg Lola, CEO of MobiDev, will provide a generalized overview of the evolution of a software product, the product owner, the needs that arise at various stages of this process, and the value brought by a software development partner to the product owner as a response to these needs.
Jan. 17, 2017 06:00 AM EST Reads: 1,129
"Plutora provides release and testing environment capabilities to the enterprise," explained Dalibor Siroky, Director and Co-founder of Plutora, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @DevOpsSummit, held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City.
Jan. 17, 2017 05:45 AM EST Reads: 3,539
SYS-CON Events announced today that Enzu will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and the 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place October 31-November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Enzu’s mission is to be the leading provider of enterprise cloud solutions worldwide. Enzu enables online businesses to use its IT infrastructure to their competitive ad...
Jan. 17, 2017 05:30 AM EST Reads: 1,530
SYS-CON Events announced today that MobiDev, a client-oriented software development company, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and the 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place October 31-November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. MobiDev is a software company that develops and delivers turn-key mobile apps, websites, web services, and complex softw...
Jan. 17, 2017 04:15 AM EST Reads: 1,809
DevOps is being widely accepted (if not fully adopted) as essential in enterprise IT. But as Enterprise DevOps gains maturity, expands scope, and increases velocity, the need for data-driven decisions across teams becomes more acute. DevOps teams in any modern business must wrangle the ‘digital exhaust’ from the delivery toolchain, "pervasive" and "cognitive" computing, APIs and services, mobile devices and applications, the Internet of Things, and now even blockchain. In this power panel at @...
Jan. 17, 2017 03:45 AM EST Reads: 2,718
Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place June 6-8, 2017 at the Javits Center in New York City, New York, is co-located with the 20th International Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. @ThingsExpo New York Call for Papers is now open.
Jan. 17, 2017 03:45 AM EST Reads: 3,538
In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Claude Remillard, Principal Program Manager in Developer Division at Microsoft, contrasted how his team used config as code and immutable patterns for continuous delivery of microservices and apps to the cloud. He showed how the immutable patterns helps developers do away with most of the complexity of config as code-enabling scenarios such as rollback, zero downtime upgrades with far greater simplicity. He also demoed building immutable pipelines in the cloud ...
Jan. 17, 2017 03:45 AM EST Reads: 3,392