Akamai Diversity
Home > Web Security

Recently in Web Security Category

Wordpress DoS Attack: CVE-2018-6389


On February 5, an Israeli security researcher, Barak Tawily, discovered a Denial of Service (DoS) attack impacting all 3.x-4.x versions of the Wordpress content management platform.  The vulnerability is currently unpatched and relies on a performance boosting feature in Wordpress allowing Javascript and style sheets to be loaded in bulk via a single request. The attack does not affect the Akamai platform, but it does affect any customers using Wordpress unless proper protections are enabled.


Humans, Machines and Data: Fighting Mirai, Together

By Yohai Einav, Hongliang Liu


It's been 18 months since Mirai entered our lives, and, unfortunately, we expect it to have a perennial presence in our cyber-world for years to come. If we look at the big picture, all indicators suggest that the Mirai problem (and its descendants) is just going to increase, with the growing number of IoT devices in the world and the improvement in IoT hardware (which makes them a more enticing opportunity for attackers - better computing power means a potential for more advanced attacks) being two primary reasons.

This makes Mirai research more urgent, and subsequently, makes DNS-based security more important. There are very few points in time when you can stop Mirai, and blocking its C&C communications in the DNS layer is one of the most effective ways (blocking C&C communications disrupts the bots' ability to receive commands and turn them into less-harmful zombies).


The days of VPNs are numbered

We have been talking about how it's time to re-evaluate giving full access to the corporate network for some time. In fact, Akamai's Sr. Director of Enterprise Security & Infrastructure Engineering talks about one of his core goals--No VPN--here.

Over the last few days, I am sure many teams who are taking the No VPN route are even more thankful. The recent news about yet another patching fire drill--this time due to a vulnerability in SSL VPN functionality of a popular security appliance--has left many security and IT teams dismayed.

There has to be an easier way, right?

Great news: If you're a security professional, your skills have never been more in demand. On the flip side, if you're looking for security talent, the search will likely be lengthy and difficult.

ISACA predicts that by 2019 there will be a shortage of two million cyber security professionals globally. And in a survey released by ESG and ISSA in November 2017, 70% of respondents stated that security skills shortages were impacting their organization. The survey also highlighted that highly- experienced staff were overloaded dealing with urgent security events that left them little time to focus on security strategy or training.

Algorithms, Alerts, and Akamai Threat Intelligence

Let me start by posing a question: If in one week security solution A produces 120 alerts and security solution B produces 45 alerts, which solution is providing you with more effective protection? The answer is: It depends.

On the face of it, solution A appears to be more effective because it's delivering more alerts than solution B. But what if solution A is actually delivering a considerable number of alerts that don't represent a real security risk to the organization, or in other words, are false positive alerts?

Gone Phishing For The Holidays

Written by Or Katz and Amiram Cohen


While our team, Akamai's Enterprise Threat Protector Security Research Team, monitored internet traffic throughout the 2017 holiday season, we spotted a wide-spread phishing campaign targeting users through an advertising tactic. During the six week timeframe, we tracked thirty different domains with the same prefix: "holidaybonus{.}com". Each one advertised the opportunity to win an expensive technology prize - a free iPhone 8, PlayStation 4, or Samsung Galaxy S8.

The websites associated with this phishing campaign used a combination of social engineering techniques such as creating trust (by using the reputation of well-known companies) and dismantling suspicion (through IP verification and social sharing). They lead users to willingly give away sensitive information by asking them to answer three trivia questions and submit their email address in order to win one of the offered prizes.


The Botconf Experience

By Yohai Einav, Amir Asiaee, Ali Fakiri-Tabrizi and Alexey Sarychev

Originally Posted on January 4, 2018

Earlier this month we took our show on the road, presenting some of our team's work at the Botconf conference in beautiful Montpellier, France. We could talk here for hours about the food, wine, culture, etc., but it would probably be more plausible for our readers to learn about the current developments in the war against bots first. So we'll start with that and perhaps get to the food discussion in the appendix.


A Death Match of Domain Generation Algorithms

By Hongliang Liu and Yuriy Yuzifovich

Originally posted on December 29, 2017 

Today's post is all about DGA's (Domain Generation Algorithms): what they are, why they came into existence, what are some use cases where they are used, and, most importantly - how to detect and block them. As we will demonstrate here, the most effective defense against DGAs is a combination of traditional methods with modern machine intelligence.

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