That Spark outage...

One of the fun things about TUANZ is you never know where the next media storm will come from, on Saturday I was in Wellington talking to the real heroes of NZ rural broadband - the regional wireless ISP's (more about them later)

Here's the latest update from Spark: 

Cyber criminals based overseas appear to have been attacking web addresses in Eastern Europe, and were bouncing the traffic off Spark customer connections, in what is known as a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack.

The DDoS attack was dynamic, predominantly taking the shape of an ‘amplified DNS attack’ which means an extremely high number of connection requests – in the order of thousands per second - were being sent to a number of overseas web addresses with the intention of overwhelming and crashing them.  Each of these requests, as it passes through our network, queries our DNS server before it passes on – so our servers were bearing the full brunt of the attack.

While the Spark network did not crash, we did experience extremely high traffic loads hitting our DNS servers which meant many customers had either slow or at times no connectivity (as their requests were timing out). There were multiple attacks, which were dynamic in nature.  They began on Friday night, subsided, and then began again early Saturday, continuing over the day.  By early Sunday morning traffic levels were back to normal and have remained so since. We did see the nature of the attack evolve over the period, possibly due to the cyber criminals monitoring our response and modifying their attack to circumvent our mitigation measures – in a classic ‘whack a mole’ scenario.

Its good to see Spark coming out with this statement as it deals with a lot of the 'chatter' that is out there, one question has been top of mind for a lot of people - Why just Spark? 

Here's their reply: 


Why only Spark?

We can’t say what other networks experienced.  However, cyber criminals often look for clusters of IP addresses to use in any particular DDoS attack.  That makes it more likely that these IP addresses belong to the customers of a single ISP – even more likely with a large ISP like Spark.

And here's a clue as to the 'how' of the attack: 

How did they get access through the Spark Network?

Since the attacks began we have had people working 24/7 to identify the root causes, alongside working to get service back to normal. During the attack, we observed that a small number of customer connections were involved in generating the vast majority of the traffic. This was consistent with customers having malware on their devices and the timing coincided with other DNS activity related to malware in other parts of the world. 

However, while we’re not ruling out malware as a factor, we have also identified that cyber criminals have been accessing vulnerable customer modems on our network. These modems have been identified as having “open DNS resolver” functionality, which means they can be used to carry out internet requests for anyone on the internet. This makes it easier for cyber criminals to ‘bounce’ an internet request off them (making it appear that the NZ modem was making the request, whereas it actually originates from an overseas source). Most of these modems were not supplied by Spark and tend to be older or lower-end modems.

What remains clear is that good end user security remains an important way to combat these attacks. With the proliferation of devices in households, that means both the security within your device and the security of your modem.

And a bit about what they had to do: 

What did Spark do?

We have now disconnected those modems from our network and are contacting all the affected customers. We have also taken steps at a network level to mitigate this modem vulnerability.  We are now in the process of scanning our entire broadband customer base to identify any other customers who may be using modems with similar vulnerabilities and will be contacting those identified customers in due course to advise them on what they should do.

With respect to malware we continue to strongly encourage our customers to keep their internet device security up to date, conduct regular scans and regularly update the operating software and firmware on their home network. We also continue to advise customers not to click on suspicious links or download files when they are not sure of the contents.  

We have also taken steps at the network level to make it more difficult for cyber criminals to exploit the DNS open resolver modem vulnerability and we’re using the latest technology to strengthen our network monitoring and management capabilities. For security reasons we can’t detail these steps, however this is an ongoing battle to stay one step ahead of cyber criminals who are continually using more and more sophisticated tactics.

 It has all the elements of a spy thriller and is a timely reminder of the importance of securing our networks, Spark have the added burden of being the 'default provider of last resort' which means they are more likely to have both older equipment out there and dare I say it, some of the less ICT literate customers.
Its a scary world out there - Stay Safe