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Tor Project to fix bug used for DDoS attacks on Onion sites for years

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Image: Tor Project

The Tor Project is preparing a fix for a bug that has been abused for the past years to launch distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks against dark web (.onion) websites.

Barring any unforeseen problems, the fix is scheduled for the upcoming Tor protocol 0.4.2 release, according to a bug report seen by ZDNet.

How the DoS bug works

In information security (infosec) terms, the bug is a “denial of service” (DoS) issue that crashes the Onion service running on a web server hosting a .onion website.

More specifically, in a simplified explanation of what happens during this bug, an attacker can initiate thousands of connections to a targeted website hosted on the dark web, but leave the connections hanging.

For each connection, the remote Onion service must negotiate a complex circuit through the Tor network that secures the connection between the remote user and its server. This process is CPU intensive, and with enough connections, the server processor is maxed out at 100% and can’t accept new connections.

This is an old bug that has been known to Tor developers for years but has not been fixed because of a lack of human power, but also because there’s no simple and straightforward way — because the bug also exploits the same process which needs to happen to establish a legitimate user’s connection.

There is no viable way to identify if any incoming connection requests are from an attacker or a legitimate user until the connection is established, at which point, it is already too late.

DDoS attacks on dark web portals

The vulnerability has plagued the operators of dark web portals for years. Initially, legitimate sites reported being attacked, but in recent months, the primary target of DDoS attacks exploiting this bug have been dark web marketplaces that sell illegal products, such as drugs, weapons, malware, and hacked user data.

In March 2019, the Dream Market, the largest dark web marketplace for illegal funds at the time, announced it was shutting down after the site had been under a barrage of DDoS attacks for months.

Site operators claimed that a hacker had been extorting the site and had asked for $400,000 worth of Bitcoin to stop the DDoS attacks. Instead of paying, Dream Market operators decided to shut down their site for good.

Dream Market explanation

Image: ZDNet

A month later, the DDoS attacks moved on to other dark web markets that took Dream’s place, such as the Empire Market and Nightmare Market.

Empire and Nightmare market DDoS

Image: ZDNet

Other smaller sites were also targeted, such as the Dread forum, a place where dark market users would often converge.

The attacks got so bad that some markets attempted to switch from Tor to I2P, another anonymity network, far less popular than Tor.

“The Tor network is not suitable for hidden services due to flaws in the network which allow denial of service attacks,” administrators of the Libertas Market wrote on their now-closed Tor portal.

The efforts to migrate to I2P failed, and the Libertas Market eventually shut down for good.

Tor DDoS tool readily available on GitHub

In the meantime, DDoS attacks on dark web portals have continued unabated, because there’s nothing that Onion site operators can do to protect themselves.

Furthermore, a tool uploaded on GitHub more than four years ago, and named Stinger-Tor, can allow anyone to carry out one of these attacks just by running a Python script.

Stinger-Tor DDoS tool

Image: ZDNet

Furthermore, there are also groups who are selling similar Tor DDoS tools on underground forums, also exploiting this same bug.

In an attempt to stop the almost constant attacks, members of the Dread community have been urging their userbase to donate to the Tor Project to help developers patch the bug.

Dread donations request

Image: ZDNet

Their efforts appear to have worked and one of the 14 bug reports where this vulnerability has been reported now lists a “sponsor” spot, meaning Tor supporters have managed to prioritize the bug fixing process via their donations.

Tor DoS bug sponsor

Image: ZDNet

The planned fix won’t completely fix the bug because this implies breaking some of Tor’s main privacy and security features, but it will make the attacks less effective.

Onion site operators will have a new option available inside the Tor service, which they can enable to activate defenses for their sites.

When this defense is enabled, Tor users will be able to access Onion sites attacked via this vulnerability, but connections will take longer to establish.

However, the good news is that sites will continue to be operational, and a threat actor can’t pummel a dark web portal into oblivion and take it offline for days or weeks.

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The Five Pillars of (Azure) Cloud-based Application Security

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This 1-hour webinar from GigaOm brings together experts in Azure cloud application migration and security, featuring GigaOm analyst Jon Collins and special guests from Fortinet, Director of Product Marketing for Public Cloud, Daniel Schrader, and Global Director of Public Cloud Architecture and Engineering, Aidan Walden.

These interesting times have accelerated the drive towards digital transformation, application rationalization, and migration to cloud-based architectures. Enterprise organizations are looking to increase efficiency, but without impacting performance or increasing risk, either from infrastructure resilience or end-user behaviors.

Success requires a combination of best practice and appropriate use of technology, depending on where the organization is on its cloud journey. Elements such as zero-trust access and security-driven networking need to be deployed in parallel with security-first operations, breach prevention and response.

If you are looking to migrate applications to the cloud and want to be sure your approach maximizes delivery whilst minimizing risk, this webinar is for you.

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Data Management and Secure Data Storage for the Enterprise

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This free 1-hour webinar from GigaOm Research brings together experts in data management and security, featuring GigaOm Analyst Enrico Signoretti and special guest from RackTop Systems, Jonathan Halstuch. The discussion will focus on data storage and how to protect data against cyberattacks.

Most of the recent news coverage and analysis of cyberattacks focus on hackers getting access and control of critical systems. Yet rarely is it mentioned that the most valuable asset for the organizations under attack is the data contained in these systems.

In this webinar, you will learn about the risks and costs of a poor data security management approach, and how to improve your data storage to prevent and mitigate the consequences of a compromised infrastructure.

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CISO Podcast: Talking Anti-Phishing Solutions

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Simon Gibson earlier this year published the report, “GigaOm Radar for Phishing Prevention and Detection,” which assessed more than a dozen security solutions focused on detecting and mitigating email-borne threats and vulnerabilities. As Gibson noted in his report, email remains a prime vector for attack, reflecting the strategic role it plays in corporate communications.

Earlier this week, Gibson’s report was a featured topic of discussions on David Spark’s popular CISO Security Vendor Relationship Podcast. In it, Spark interviewed a pair of chief information security officers—Mike Johnson, CISO for SalesForce, and James Dolph, CISO for Guidewire Software—to get their take on the role of anti-phishing solutions.

“I want to first give GigaOm some credit here for really pointing out the need to decide what to do with detections,” Johnson said when asked for his thoughts about selecting an anti-phishing tool. “I think a lot of companies charge into a solution for anti-phishing without thinking about what they are going to do when the thing triggers.”

As Johnson noted, the needs and vulnerabilities of a large organization aligned on Microsoft 365 are very different from those of a smaller outfit working with GSuite. A malicious Excel macro-laden file, for example, poses a credible threat to a Microsoft shop and therefore argues for a detonation solution to detect and neutralize malicious payloads before they can spread and morph. On the other hand, a smaller company is more exposed to business email compromise (BEC) attacks, since spending authority is often spread among many employees in these businesses.

Gibson’s radar report describes both in-line and out-of-band solutions, but Johnson said cloud-aligned infrastructures argue against traditional in-line schemes.

“If you put an in-line solution in front of [Microsoft] 365 or in front of GSuite, you are likely decreasing your reliability, because you’ve now introduced this single point of failure. Google and Microsoft have this massive amount of reliability that is built in,” Johnson said.

So how should IT decision makers go about selecting an anti-phishing solution? Dolph answered that question with a series of questions of his own:

“Does it nail the basics? Does it fit with the technologies we have in place? And then secondarily, is it reliable, is it tunable, is it manageable?” he asked. “Because it can add a lot overhead, especially if you have a small team if these tools are really disruptive to the email flow.”

Dolph concluded by noting that it’s important for solutions to provide insight that can help organizations target their protections, as well as support both training and awareness around threats. Finally, he urged organizations to consider how they can measure the effectiveness of solutions.

“I may look at other solutions in the future and how do I compare those solutions to the benchmark of what we have in place?”

Listen to the Podcast: CISO Podcast

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