DNS Amplification Attack: How they Work, Detection and Mitigation

Nedim Maric
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

What Is a DNS Amplification Attack?

DNS amplification is a type of DNS attack that performs Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) on a target server. It involves cybercriminals exploiting publicly available, open DNS servers to overwhelm a target with DNS response traffic. 

The attacker sends a DNS lookup request to an open DNS server, where the source address is spoofed to become the target address. When the DNS server returns the DNS record response, it is relayed to the new target, controlled by the attacker.

In this article:

How Does a DNS Amplification Attack Work?

In a DNS amplification attack, cybercriminals exploit the everyday functioning of the Domain Name System (DNS), turning it into a weapon that can damage the victim’s website. The aim is to bombard the site with fake DNS search requests, which take up network bandwidth until the website fails.  

For an example of how DNS works, look at the following scenario: 

  1. The user enters www.example.com into a browser—DNS is the internet service that receives that request, locates the IP address given to the domain name, and transfers it back to the browser, permitting the client to connect to the site.  
  2. There is a particular method for locating that address, starting with the user’s computer examining its local cache:
    1. If not found, query the given ISP’s DNS servers 
    2. If still not found, systematically go through the DNS resolvers throughout the internet up to the time this IP address is located. 
  3. At first, an organization’s network generally resolves DNS requests in relation to its employees, however, the internet includes many “open”, publicly accessible DNS resolvers which are capable of resolving DNS requests for anybody—including cybercriminals. Cybercriminals make use of these open resolvers, and can send fake requests without drawing attention. 

The attacker’s aim is to turn relatively small DNS requests into extremely large responses. A common DNS request (a few lines of text) is very small (typically in the tens of bytes) and gives a response that is only a bit larger.  

The next steps for an attacker typically look like this:

  1. The attacker crafts DNS requests in a manner that dramatically amplifies the size of the response. One means of doing this is to request not only the IP address for a website such as www.example.com, but data about the whole domain (for instance, using DNS requests for the record kind “ANY”). 
  2. The response could feature details about backup servers, subdomains, aliases, mail servers and more. 
  3. All of a sudden, a 10-byte DNS request might create a response that is 10, 20, or even 50 times greater. 

Related content: Read our guide to DNS flood attacks (coming soon)

DNS Reflection-Amplification Attacks

A common DDoS attack type that is currently widely employed is the combined reflection-amplification attack, which lets cybercriminals generate higher-volume attacks by making use of two processes: 

  • Reflection attack—the attacker spoofs a target’s IP address and dispatches the request for data, mainly via the UDP, or the TCP. The server reacts to the request, and responds by answering the target’s IP address. This “reflection”—making use of the same protocol in two directions—is why it is named a reflection attack. All servers operating TCP- or UDP-based services may be targeted to be a reflector
  • Amplification attack—a large volume of packets is generated, flooding the target website without the intermediary noticing. This takes place when a poorly protected service responds with a sizable reply once the cybercriminal sends their request, generally known as a trigger packet. Attackers can use tools to send thousands of such requests to poorly protected services, which causes responses that are noticeably bigger than the primary request. This significantly amplifies the bandwidth and size given to a target, either through multiple response packets to a single packet, or with larger packets compared to the original. 

A reflection-amplification attack makes use of both, letting cybercriminals both increase the volume of malicious traffic they are able to generate and hide the sources of the attack traffic. Typically, these attacks depend on millions of exposed UDP/TCP-based services, for example, DNS, SNMP, NTP and SSDP. 

As with all DDoS attacks, reflection-amplification attacks are created to flood the target system, creating out-and-out shutdown or disruption of services.

What causes this sort of attack to be so harmful is that it may be carried out via ordinary consumer devices or servers. There is no apparent indication of being compromised, causing them to be more difficult to prevent. Furthermore, launching a reflection-amplification attack does not demand sophisticated tools—an attacker can develop sizable volumetric attacks with one robust server or a modest source of bots.

Detecting and Mitigating DNS Reflection-Amplification Attacks

It is sometimes possible to detect a reflection-amplification attack before the amount of traffic is enough to impact the availability of the service. However, this quick response time generally demands highly aggressive responsiveness and monitoring, or services offered by an upstream network provider. 

Common network throughput monitoring tools including SNMP, netflow, and custom scripts can help bring your attention to dramatic increases in service or network utilization.  Automated, qualitative, and real-time examination of network traffic might locate an unexpected surge in one sort of protocol that could be utilized to identify a reflection amplification DoS event when it begins. Generally, the lead time could be short and the indicator of a network’s event availability or service falls.  

A necessary component of DNS amplification attacks is entry to open DNS resolvers. When poorly configured DNS resolvers are exposed to the internet, a cybercriminal only needs to use a DNS resolver to find it. 

If possible, DNS resolvers should offer their services only to devices that come from within a trusted domain. With regard to reflection-based attacks, the open DNS resolvers will respond to queries coming from any portion of the internet, providing the possibility for exploitation. 

If you restrict a DNS resolver so that it only responds to queries from trusted sources, the server will be a poor vehicle for any sort of amplification attack.  

When the flood volume surpasses the network’s capacity connection, you must catch the incoming traffic upstream to distinguish the attack traffic from the genuine traffic. These types of defenses may be offered by third-party providers such as a CDN or ISP, or providers that specialize in DoS mitigation. 

You can achieve on-premises filtering in different ways, depending on the flood volume. Filtering methods may include:

  • Blocking the source addresses sourcing the attack.
  • Blocking the protocols being utilized for transport.
  • Blocking the ports being targeted. 

For a timely response, you may need to quickly engage third-parties. You must assess the risk connected with crucial resources being affected by Network DoS attacks and develop a business continuity or disaster recovery plan to respond to incidents. 

DNS Amplification Protection with Neuralegion

NeuraLegion’s Nexploit automatically scans your apps and APIs for hundreds of vulnerabilities. The generated reports are false-positive free, as Nexploit validates every finding before reporting it to you. The reports come with clear remediation guidelines for your team and thanks to Nexploit’s integration with ticketing tools, assigning a finding to a developer for fixing is easily done.

Try NeuraLegion’s Nexploit for free – Register for a Nexploit account

Secure your app with every build

Sign up for a FREE NeuraLegion account.
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Related Articles