Earlier this month, security blogger Brian Krebs broke a story about an Israeli DDoS-for-hire service, vDOS, which had been hacked, revealing “tens of thousands of paying customers and their (DDoS) targets.” Afterwards, Krebs noticed that vDOS itself was also a victim of a recent BGP hijack from a company called BackConnect, which claims to be the “world’s first and leading open source based DDoS and network security provider.”
|Bryant Townsend, CEO of BackConnect, confirmed to Krebs that they had indeed conducted a BGP hijack on vDOS, but claimed that it was for “defensive purposes.” In an email to the NANOG list, Townsend explained that in doing so they “were able to collect intelligence on the actors behind the botnet as well as identify the attack servers used by the booter service,” implying this was a one-time event. Krebs then contacted Dyn for some assistance in researching what appeared to be a series of BGP hijacks conducted by BackConnect over the past year. What emerges from this analysis is that the hijack against vDOS probably wasn’t the first time BackConnect used BGP hijacks in the course of its business. And via the use of forged AS paths, BackConnect sometimes obscured their involvement in this activity. (Today’s blog post on BackConnect by Brian Krebs can be found here.)|
Hijack of vDOS/Verdina
Let’s first take a look at BackConnect’s recent hijack of vDOS that brought this discussion to the fore. According to our data, BackConnect (AS203959) began announcing 188.8.131.52/24 (Verdina Ltd.) at 07:13:26 UTC on 7 September 2016. Over half of our peers accepted a BGP route with BackConnect’s ASN as the origin until it stopped announcing the route at 7:49:15 UTC, less than 50 minutes later. The propagation of this route is depicted in the visualization below, which shows the duration and reach of BackConnect’s route across the hundreds of BGP sources we employ for our analysis.
When viewing this BGP hijack in the context of our traceroutes, we can see the new path traffic took as a result of this action. Prior to the hijack, traceroutes from our server hosted with Amazon Web Servces (AWS) in Ashburn, VA would normally traverse Cogent from Washington DC and on to Sofia, Bulgaria where Verdina is located. Below is one of those traceroutes the day prior to the hijack.
trace from AWS Ashburn, VA to 184.108.40.206 at 08:19 Sep 06, 2016
3 100.65.11.65 RFC 6598 (carrier-grade NAT) 0.589
4 220.127.116.11 Amazon.com, Inc. Ashburn US 1.421
5 18.104.22.168 Amazon Technologies Inc. Ashburn US 1.468
6 22.214.171.124 Amazon Technologies Inc. Ashburn US 1.491
7 126.96.36.199 dca2-edge-02.inet.qwest.net Washington US 2.009
8 188.8.131.52 dcp-brdr-04.inet.qwest.net Washington US 2.554
9 184.108.40.206 be3045.ccr41.iad02.atlas.cogentco.com Washington US 1.878
10 220.127.116.11 be2657.ccr42.dca01.atlas.cogentco.com Washington US 3.104
11 18.104.22.168 be2807.ccr42.jfk02.atlas.cogentco.com New York US 9.058
12 22.214.171.124 be2490.ccr42.lon13.atlas.cogentco.com London GB 77.922
13 126.96.36.199 be12488.ccr42.ams03.atlas.cogentco.com Amsterdam NL 83.648
14 188.8.131.52 be2814.ccr42.fra03.atlas.cogentco.com Frankfurt DE 93.298
15 184.108.40.206 be2960.ccr22.muc03.atlas.cogentco.com Munich DE 100.592
16 220.127.116.11 be2975.ccr21.vie01.atlas.cogentco.com Vienna AT 104.828
17 18.104.22.168 be2046.ccr21.sof02.atlas.cogentco.com Sofia BG 125.216
During the hijack, the traceroute instead went from Amazon to Comcast and on to Voxility (BackConnect’s transit provider of choice, covered by KrebsonSecurity in 2013) to Los Angeles. Numerous traceroutes from around the world were redirected to Voxility in Los Angeles, as opposed to anything in Bulgaria during the hijack.
trace from AWS Ashburn, VA to 22.214.171.124 at 07:41 Sep 07, 2016
3 100.65.11.65 RFC 6598 (carrier-grade NAT) 0.478
4 126.96.36.199 Amazon.com, Inc. Ashburn US 0.668
5 188.8.131.52 Amazon Technologies Inc. Ashburn US 1.054
6 184.108.40.206 Amazon Technologies Inc. Ashburn US 0.75
7 220.127.116.11 Comcast Cable Communications, LL Ashburn US 1.436
8 18.104.22.168 Comcast Business Communications, Ashburn US 1.12
9 22.214.171.124 ash-eqx-01c.voxility.net Ashburn US 1.283
10 126.96.36.199 lax-eqx-01c.voxility.net Los Angeles US 62.358
11 188.8.131.52 Verdina Ltd. 62.633
As seen in Dyn’s Internet Intelligence, typical incoming transit for BackConnect has the following form, i.e., BackConnect typically has Voxility as the sole upstream provider for their prefixes.
In the remaining part of this blog post, we’ll take a look at some of the other interesting BGP routing activity involving BackConnect (AS203959) over the past year.
Forged AS Paths
On 20 February 2016, BackConnect hijacked a route (184.108.40.206/24) belonging to a competing DDoS-mitigation provider, Staminus. In March, Brian Krebs broke the news that Staminus had been hacked, revealing sensitive customer data. This sequence of events has led some to believe that BackConnect may have been involved in the Staminus hack. BackConnect CEO Bryant Townsend was formerly SVP of Business Development at Staminus.
Setting aside that discussion, here’s what the hijack looked like from a BGP perspective. The prefix 220.127.116.11/24 is a more-specific of 18.104.22.168/19, which is announced by Staminus (AS25761).
... 3223 203959 53587 53587 53587 53587 134830 134830 134830 203959 203959
Then the AS path changed to the following with InAbate (AS134830) ostensibly as the origin (rightmost ASN):
... 3223 203959 32768 53587 53587 53587 53587 134830 134830 134830
Finally, BackConnect added AS25761 (Staminus) as the origin, taking the form:
... 3223 203959 1229 3257 25761
In every case, the routes passed through BackConnect’s ASN (AS203959) and onto another DDoS-mitigation provider, Voxility (AS3223). In the third form of the AS path, we can be sure that the last three ASNs in the path were forged. For one, GTT (AS3257) never had this route in its table at the time. Also Staminus uses GTT and Telia (AS1299) for transit, so it appears that BackConnect attempted to make it look like the route had passed through these ASNs (AS1229 was likely a typo for Telia’s AS1299), or perhaps they were there to prevent those providers from carrying the route. Regardless of BackConnect’s intentions, announcing a more-specific hijack with a forged AS path is itself a pretty suspicious act.
On the following day, BackConnect announced 22.214.171.124/24, a more-specific hijack of 126.96.36.199/17 originated by GHOSTnet GmbH (AS12586). While OpenDNS’s automated BGPstream service spotted this one, it misidentified the actual hijacker.
… 3223 203959
Then at the very end, the AS path changed to the following.
… 3223 203959 1229 3257 25761
Again AS25761 belongs to Staminus and AS3257 (GTT) and AS1229 (same typo for Telia as above) are the upstreams of Staminus. That portion of the AS path is clearly forged. This hijack wasn’t conducted by Staminus, it was BackConnect (AS203959) posing as Staminus via a forged AS path.
BackConnect again used forged AS paths on 21 February 2016 when announcing 188.8.131.52/24 (Tivoli Systems). At the time, 184.108.40.206/24 was not announced, although it is currently announced by Softlayer. At 07:58:53 UTC, this route was announced with an origin of 4134 (China Telecom) but exclusively routed through BackConnect and Voxility. Later it was changed to have an origin of Hurricane Electric (AS6939) and upstreams of AS42708 (Portlane) and AS36236 (Host Virtual), followed by China Telecom (again). It was again routed exclusively through BackConnect.
First AS path format:
... 3223 203959 4134
Second AS path format:
... 3223 203959 4134 42708 36236 6939
What was BackConnect’s purpose of hiding the origin of a route of unused address space? As stated by Bryant Townsend in a post to the NANOG mailing list explaining their hijack of vDOS, “No, we do not plan to ever intentionally perform a non-authorized BGP hijack in the future”, implying this was a one-time event, rather than a pattern of behavior.
On 16 April 2016, BackConnect began transiting a new route that was a hijack of routed address space. The route (220.127.116.11/24) was a more-specific hijack of 18.104.22.168/17 originated by GHOSTnet GmbH (AS12586). Was this another case of BackConnect (AS203959) forging the origins to obfuscate their involvement in this hijack?
The AS path first took the form
... 3223 203959 27176
and was then changed to
... 3223 203959 29073
So the origin appeared to be DataWagon (AS27176) and then Ecatel (AS29073), but the paths always traversed BackConnect (AS203959), and, of course, Voxility.
Other BackConnect hijacks of note
Soon after BackConnect’s ASN (AS203959) appeared in the routing table last fall, it had conducted its first BGP hijack. For about 20 minutes, it announced 22.214.171.124/24, a more-specific of 126.96.36.199/18 announced by Falco Networks (AS31251).
On 4 December 2015, BackConnect hijacked address space belonging to Russian DDoS-mitigation provider DDoS-Guard.
Many suspicious FQDNs were seen resolving to this address space in the past year, including …
On 17 April, BackConnect announced 188.8.131.52/24 which was a more-specific of 184.108.40.206/21 announced by Ecatel (AS29073).
BackConnect’s Routing Leak
BGP routing leaks (especially peering leaks) occur in some form nearly every day. But for a company that has confirmed that it has manipulated BGP routes in order to intercept traffic, what may otherwise be viewed as simply an innocent BGP leak involving BackConnect might now be viewed in a different light. At 09:08:28 UTC on 28 May 2016, BackConnect leaked over 13,000 BGP routes from various peers to its transit provider Voxility. Below are visualizations depicting the duration and the degree of route propagation by BackConnect as an upstream for four of these routes.
As part of our continuous global Internet latency and path monitoring, many hundreds of traceroutes were redirected through Voxility and presumably BackConnect on their way to their various destinations. Below is an example of a server in London with Level 3 transit, tracing out the path it took to Opal Telecom, also in London, the day before the leak.
trace from London to 220.127.116.11 at 12:01 May 27, 2016
2 18.104.22.168 xe-9-1-1-205.edge3.London2.Level3.net London GB 0.315
5 22.214.171.124 GTT-level3-100G.London15.Level3.net London GB 0.595
6 126.96.36.199 talktalk-communications-gw.ip4.tinet.net London GB 0.673
7 188.8.131.52 host-78-144-12-253.as13285.net London GB 0.939
8 184.108.40.206 host-78-144-11-228.as13285.net London GB 5.222
9 220.127.116.11 host-78-151-228-83.as13285.net London GB 2.001
10 18.104.22.168 host-62-24-254-204.as13285.net London GB 1.856
11 22.214.171.124 mail.wla.co.uk London GB 25.141
Then during the leak, a traceroute with the same source and destination was redirected to Voxility PoP in Miami, Florida before being passed back to London to reach Opal Telecom.
trace from London to 126.96.36.199 at 09:11 May 28, 2016
2 188.8.131.52 xe-9-1-1-205.edge3.London2.Level3.net London GB 0.303
3 184.108.40.206 ae-115-3501.edge3.London1.Level3.net London GB 0.388
4 220.127.116.11 London GB 0.652
5 18.104.22.168 et9-3-0.miami15.mia.seabone.net Miami US 98.385
6 22.214.171.124 et9-3-0.miami15.mia.seabone.net Miami US 98.173
7 126.96.36.199 voxility.miami15.mia.seabone.net Miami US 104.161
8 188.8.131.52 mia-nap-01c.voxility.net Miami US 106.383
9 184.108.40.206 ash-eqx-01c.voxility.net Washington US 137.884
12 220.127.116.11 host-78-144-11-110.as13285.net London GB 142.411
13 18.104.22.168 host-78-151-234-97.as13285.net London GB 143.289
14 22.214.171.124 host-62-24-254-204.as13285.net London GB 143.391
15 126.96.36.199 mail.wla.co.uk London GB 166.841
It is safe to assume that a lot of Internet traffic passed through Voxility en route to BackConnect on 28 May 2016.
What we can conclude from all of this is that BackConnect has a history of hijacking BGP routes and, while this is not uncommon for DDoS mitigation services, their hijacking pattern is unusual to say the least. With limited propagation of routes, very short duration hijacks, deliberate attempts at obfuscation, and apparent lack of coordination with the impacted parties, these traffic interceptions seem completely unlike typical services between consenting parties.
As readers of this blog will certainly know, the DDoS threat is growing ever more “frequent, persistent, and complex.” The more we can learn about the actors and their methods of operation, the better we can defend ourselves and the health and operation of the global Internet. Regardless of BackConnect’s intentions, the larger question for the community is to what lengths are we willing to go in that struggle and under whose authority?
DDoS Mitigation Firm Has a History of Hijacks https://t.co/XtTdUrdTVh < many hours of research. meanwhile, my site remains under attack
— briankrebs (@briankrebs) September 20, 2016
KrebsOnSecurity worked with Doug Madory at Dyn on research in today's post about BackConnect and vDOS. Their take: https://t.co/Q61RlQXHFU
— briankrebs (@briankrebs) September 20, 2016
Appendix: Additional BackConnect BGP routing activity
Author’s note: For the sake of completeness, we have added additional descriptions of routing activity involving BackConnect below.
3 December 2015: 188.8.131.52/24
In December, BackConnect announced 184.108.40.206/24, a more-specific hijack of 220.127.116.11/21, which is announced by AS48884 (VolumeDrive). This hijack lasted a couple of days and eventually achieved global propagation. Such a pattern is more consistent with BGP-based DDoS mitigation.
On 7 January 2016, BackConnect briefly appeared upstream of Host4Geeks LLC (AS393960) for two of its routes. If this was DDoS mitigation, it wouldn’t have been very effective considering its brevity, limited route propagation, and lack of coordination between the different parties announcing the routes.
March – July, 2016: 18.104.22.168
In the past year, http://22.214.171.124 has been the location of a hacker forum. It was initially originated by DataWagon (AS27176) on 15 November 2015. Soon after it would appear that origin had changed, when in reality DataWagon had simply falsified part of the AS path to make it appear as though it was coming from elsewhere.
The new AS path was the following:
... 174 27176 6939 3257 4134 8655
If this path were to be believed, it would suggest that AS8655 (an unused ASN) was the origin, which supposedly sent this route exclusively to China Telecom (AS4134), who then sent it exclusively to GTT (AS3257), Hurricane Electric (AS6939) and on to DataWagon (AS27176). This route would cycle through other origins with falsified AS paths over the following months until it sputtered out in July.
In March, DataWagon had returned to being the origin of 126.96.36.199/24 and continued to do so until 21 July 2016 when it was withdrawn. However, the route reappeared the following day, again originated by DataWagon (AS27176) (pictured below left), but this time with BackConnect as its exclusive upstream instead of DDoS mitigation provider ProTraf (AS63990) (pictured below right).
24 March 2016: 188.8.131.52/24
While the following hijack didn’t involve BackConnect, it did involve the DDoS mitigation provider (Voxility) exclusively used by BackConnect in a hijack of Staminus (184.108.40.206/24) occurring on 24 March 2016. The private ASN (AS65421) seen in many AS paths appeared just after Voxility’s ASN. Since Staminus didn’t stop announcing this route during this incident, this doesn’t appear to be consistent with consensual DDoS mitigation.
OpenDNS’s BGPstream claimed a BackConnect hijack of 220.127.116.11/24 on 23 April 2016. Technically speaking, this was not a hijack as the victim’s prefix (18.104.22.168/18) had ceased being routed at about 11:00 UTC the previous day (22 April). Having said that, 22.214.171.124/18 appears to have been announced by IP squatter Bitcanal (AS197426) using a phony origin ASN, AS55830 (Indonesia Digital Media). Suspicious routing from Bitcanal has been mentioned on multiple occasions in this blog.
20 May 2016: 126.96.36.199/24
On 20 May 2016, BackConnect announced 188.8.131.52/24 which was a more-specific hijack of 184.108.40.206/19, announced by AS26615 (Tim Celular of Brazil). BackConnect explained to Brian Krebs that this hijack was simply a typo as one of their routes differs by a single digit (220.127.116.11/24).