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Impact of Meltdown and Spectre on Akamai


On Wednesday, January 3rd, researchers from Google Project Zero, Cyberus Technology, Graz University of Technology, and other organizations released details about a pair of related vulnerabilities, dubbed Meltdown and Spectre.  These vulnerabilities appear to affect all modern processors and enables malicious code to read sensitive portions of memory on nearly all systems, including computers and mobile devices.  

Akamai is aware of side-effects of "speculative execution", the core capabilities that enable the Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities.   We are testing the performance and efficacy of the available patches on our systems.  Because of our technical approach to handling data of many customers, we do not believe these vulnerabilities pose a significant threat to the Akamai platform. Akamai does not rely on the capabilities that enable these vulnerabilities.  We will continue to update further, as more details become public.


All modern CPU architectures use a technique called "speculative execution", including Intel, AMD, and ARM.  This technique takes advantage of times when the CPU is waiting for a slow process, such as reading or writing to main memory, to proactively perform tasks predicted from the current activities.  This speeds up overall processing by completing tasks before they're required, and if the task is not needed, the CPU unwinds the work and frees up the resources. Unfortunately, this process is not perfect, and the CPU can be tricked into giving access to read kernel memory.

 The vulnerability that speculative execution introduces leads to the paired vulnerabilities called Meltdown and Spectre.  Both vulnerabilities grant a user program read access to the kernel memory and to the memory space of other programs and hence all secrets they contain.  The impact of these vulnerabilities is especially concerning in the case of shared cloud services, as they can lead to escaping the memory space of the hypervisor to read other sections of virtual memory and potentially access secrets of other virtual hosts.

 The difference between Meltdown and Spectre is in the mechanism they use to read memory. Meltdown allows a user program to read any physical memory on the machine directly during speculative execution, leaving "tell-tale" effects that indicate what value has been read. With Spectre, a user program "tricks" the kernel into reading the memory itself during speculative execution and leaving "tell-tale" effects (that the user can see) that indicate what value has been read.

Because these vulnerabilities are at the hardware level, they affect almost all operating systems.  Patches for Meltdown are available for the most popular operating systems, with additional patches being released quickly. The Spectre vulnerability is not patchable at this time, and it is projected this will require new hardware to mitigate, meaning a new generation of CPU's.  The potential of patching software compilers to disable the exposed features that make Spectre possible exists, but it comes with significant costs.

 An additional concern with patching these vulnerabilities is that they cause a significant performance penalty on the CPU. This is a significant impact that many high use systems may not be able to absorb.

 Impact to Akamai

Akamai is in the process of evaluating the patches for these vulnerabilities.  Our desktop platforms--Macs, Windows, Linux--are as affected as anyone else's.  We're rolling out vendor patches and making suggested configuration changes as we receive them. Our production systems are not significantly impacted by it at this time.  There are two primary aspects of Akamai's environment that limit exposure to Meltdown and Spectre.  First, Akamai's platforms do not rely on CPU-enforced page table isolation for separation of customer data.  Second, the platforms do not allow for the execution of arbitrary code by customers or users, severely limiting any potential to exploit this weakness.  

Akamai believes there is minimal customer impact from these vulnerabilities, but we will continue to proactively evaluate this problem. Customer secrets and personally identifiable information are not exposed by this vulnerability. 

Details about the Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities are still evolving, and Akamai is continuing to research their impact on our systems and our customers.  

More details can be found in Intel's Newsroom https://newsroom.intel.com/.


Attack of the Killer ROBOT

On Dec 12th, 2017, researchers Hanno Böck, Juraj Somorovsky and Craig Young published a paper detailing an attack they called the Return Of Bleichenbacher's Oracle Threat (ROBOT)(https://eprint.iacr.org/2017/1189). This attack, as the name implies, is an extension of an attack published in 1998 (https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007%2FBFb0055716.pdf) that affects systems using certain implementations of RSA key exchange.

Customers have voiced concerns about this threat and asked how Akamai can help. Customers that use Akamai services are protected from this attack, because Akamai uses OpenSSL on all of our Edge servers, instead of the vulnerable implementation this threat targets. Since RSA key exchange is not used, this attack will fail against the Akamai Edge. An attacker communicates with an Edge server first, so the Akamai network prevents vulnerable origin servers from ever seeing the ROBOT attack. Additionally, customers who use Site Shield are protected from any related scanning and exploitation attempts as all requests will be forced through Akamai's Edge network.

There is one exception: Customers using the Akamai SRIP product should be aware the service proxies messages directly back to the customer's server and does not negotiate the key exchange.  The ROBOT attack traffic would also be proxied in this manner and could result in a successful attack.  Customers using SRIP need to patch vulnerable systems as quickly as their patching and risk mitigation processes allow.

The ROBOT attack works by allowing the attacker to to recover the plaintext from chosen ciphertext. In this scenario, the attacker queries the target server with an encrypted message. The server then decrypts the message and responds with 1 if the plaintext starts with 0x0002 or 0 otherwise. By modifying the messages sent, depending on the response from the server, the attacker can, over time, decrypt the ciphertext without obtaining the private key.. This attack is part of a family known as a chosen-ciphertext attacks.

In addition to the aforementioned exploit, this attack allows the attacker to sign arbitrary messages with the private RSA key of the server. Using a similar method, the attack treats the attacker's message as though it were eavesdropped ciphertext. Again the key is not stolen, but that attacker can still use it to sign messages.  The researchers point out that this function is time consuming and only works on certain types of implementations.

The most important lesson to be learned from this attack is that current testing is insufficient and allows old vulnerabilities to work against modern TLS implementations. The paper's authors note how alarming it is  they were able to successfully use a 19 year old attack with only simple modifications. The real solution is to fully depreciate RSA key exchange. While the current TLS 1.3 specification does so, legacy implementations and compatibility requirements will keep this attack and others a useful tool for years to come.  

 Akamai SIRT

Akamai, Mirai, & The FBI

Through the end of 2016, and throughout 2017, multiple Mirai-based botnets targeted multiple Akamai customers. The very first Mirai attack against Akamai was a multi-day barrage, weighing in at a peak of 620/Gbps that sent shockwaves across the Internet. The same botnet would go on to conduct several hard hitting attacks across the Internet and cause widespread outages. 

On December 13, 2017, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that multiple actors pled guilty to attacks linked to the original Mirai botnet. In this announcement they also listed Akamai and other organizations as a source of "additional assistance".

"Additional assistance was provided by the FBI's New Orleans and Pittsburgh Field Offices, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana, the United Kingdom's National Crime Agency, the French General Directorate for Internal Security, the National Cyber-Forensics & Training Alliance, Palo Alto Networks Unit 42, Google, Cloudflare, Coinbase, Flashpoint, Yahoo and Akamai."

Researchers at Akamai have been involved in the dissection and tracking of the Mirai botnet from the very beginning and have been actively working to keep up with the evolution of Mirai and its many variants since. We want to use this opportunity to explain the role Akamai played in the research leading up to FBI's investigations.

In the hours following the initial attacks, researchers from Akamai SIRT, Flashpoint, CloudFlare, Google, Yahoo, Palo Alto Networks, and more, began to take notice and work toward understanding the who, what, why, and how that made attacks of this magnitude possible.  Individuals at these organizations formed an informal working group in order to share the knowledge they were gleaning on the nature of the new threat. 

Malware samples believed to be associated with a new, and mostly unknown, botnet were seen across several honeypots in the wild. This quickly-growing botnet was not only observed infecting honeypots, but was also identified based on its continually growing footprint of scanning and brute-forcing activities.

Researchers at Akamai began analyzing the malware to reverse engineer its network protocols and capabilities. The discoveries we made related to communication strategies, command and control protocol structures, attack capabilities, attack traffic signatures, as well as other valuable data was collected, documented, and ultimately shared to aid in collaboration across the working group of researchers and their respective organizations.

These findings and information proved valuable in helping other organizations defend against the Mirai botnet as well as assisting the FBI to understand, correlate, and attribute attacks back to specific botnets and suspected DDoS-for-hire operations.

We at Akamai appreciate the FBI and DOJ for acknowledging our hard work on the Mirai botnet research and their continued efforts to help victims and organizations to combat cybercrime.

Together we can all do our part to help make and keep the Internet "Fast, Reliable, and Secure".

High fives to everyone involved!


The results are in, Black Friday and Cyber Monday broke all records in 2017 as the total revenue for these days exceeded $11.5 billion. Anticipating that more consumers would shop online, retailers invested in digital experiences and geared up for the holidays by (i) stocking fewer items in stores to reduce inventory costs and (ii) hiring few seasonal workers. Retailers' predictions were accurate, and their investment in digital experiences paid off, as close to 40% of the Black Friday revenue was generated via mobile devices.

We, at Akamai, typically see a huge surge in traffic on our platform on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and this year was no exception. Using our mPulse technology to capture real user data and correlate web and mobile performance to user behavior, we observed an overall global increase in mobile device conversion rates in 2017. Our data highlights that retailers have understood and implemented strategies to improve the digital experience for their users, and that those investments are paying off, especially on mobile devices. Here are the key trends that we observed on our platform and which resulted in a successful holiday season:

Layered Security Without the Layered Complexity

With the recent influx of news reports regarding security incidents, more Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs), Chief Information Officers (CIOs), and IT professionals are reviewing current security infrastructures, policies, and practices to identify potential weaknesses in their security posture. This has long been best practice, but with the progressive use of various attack and threat vectors now employed by malicious actors against businesses, this practice must be constantly in play and the execution plan must be dynamic, adjusting to the ever-evolving security threat landscape.



Since 2005, when Gartner coined the term, SIEM (Security Information and Event Management) solutions have grown in importance for the security industry.

SIEM solutions provide a centralized view to easily access and analyze security information from multiple sources, and then prioritize mitigation efforts based on risk profiles. SIEM also helps organizations meet their security log analysis and incident/event reporting requirements.

What You Need To Know About The "ROCA" vulnerability

By Daniel Franke, Infosec Researcher

Akamai is aware of the recently-disclosed "ROCA" vulnerability in cryptographic firmware used in products made by Infineon Technologies. A bug in the firmware's prime-search algorithm used for RSA key generation results in RSA keys that are relatively cheap and inexpensive to factor. The bug impacts Infineon Trusted Platform Modules (TPMs) as well as many smartcards and Hardware Security Modules (HSMs) that use Infineon chips but do not carry Infineon branding, notably including the popular YubiKey 4. In some cases, it may be possible to patch affected devices with an OEM-supplied firmware update. In other cases, the hardware must be replaced.


I can Haz TLS 1.3 ?

Everybody wants to be able to use TLS 1.3. Among the reasons are:

Fast Flux Botnet: Research Results

Just like that, another Akamai Edge has come and gone. If you were able to join us this year, I hope you had a chance to stop by my presentation on Threat Intelligence Insights: An In-Depth Analysis of a Fast Flux Botnet.

KRACK Vulnerability in WiFi WPA2

Akamai is aware of a family of vulnerabilities known as the Key Reinstallation Attack or KRACK.  These vulnerabilities abuse implementation flaws found in all modern wireless networks using WPA2. The KRACK attack is effective at the protocol level and therefore affects all systems using current WiFi encryption, including iOS, Linux, Windows and Android.  The vulnerabilities allow the attacker to reinstall a previously used cryptographic key. This would allow for the decryption, injection, or forging of traffic on the affected network, depending on which vulnerability is used.