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LISA 2000 Abstract

Tracing Anonymous Packets to Their Approximate Source

Hal Burch, Carnegie Mellon University; and Bill Cheswick,Lumeta Corporation


Most denial-of-service attacks are characterized by a flood of packets with random, apparently valid source addresses. These addresses are spoofed, created by a malicious program running on an unknown host, and carried by packets that bear no clues that could be used to determine their originating host. Identifying the source of such an attack requires tracing the packets back to the source hop by hop. Current approaches for tracing these attacks require the tedious continued attention and cooperation of each intermediate Internet Service Provider (ISP). This is not always easy given the world-wide scope of the Internet.

We outline a technique for tracing spoofed packets back to their actual source host without relying on the cooperation of intervening ISPs. First, we map the paths from the victim to all possible networks. Next, we locate sources of network load, usually hosts or networks offering the UDP chargen service [5]. Finally, we work back through the tree, loading lines or router, observing changes in the rate of invading packets. These observations often allow us to eliminate all but a handful of networks that could be the source of the attacking packet stream. Our technique assumes that routes are largely symmetric, can be discovered, are fairly consistent, and the attacking packet stream arrives from a single source network.

We have run some simple and single-blind tests on Lucent's intranet, where our technique usually works, with better chances during busier network time periods; in several tests, we were able to determine the specific network containing the attacker.

An attacker who is aware of our technique can easily thwart it, either by covering his traces on the attacking host, initiating a ``whack-a-mole'' attack from several sources, or using many sources.

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Last changed: 16 Jan. 2002 ml
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