Distributed denial of service attacks have been one of the most common and well-known ways that malicious hackers have gone after companies on the web. But as cybercrime becomes more sophisticated and widespread, and our lives become increasingly connected, the nature of DDoS has changed: now any concentration of traffic on the network is susceptible, be it chat or VoIP networks, online gaming services or enterprise data centers. (Arbor Networks, in fact, pinpointed data centers as “magnets” for DDoS attacks these days, with 70% of data centers experiencing some form of attack in 2013.)
Now, one of the pioneers of developing software to fend off DDoS attacks, Barrett Lyon, is today releasing a product from his new startup, Defense.net, to target this area. DDoS Frontline is effectively a set of cloud-based algorithms and a tunnelling protocol that claims to offer 10 times as much bandwidth and mitigation capacity as older DDoS mitigation providers, doing so without wrecking a network in the process — or, in the analogy that Lyon provided for me, think of DDoS Frontline as a team of firefighters that can douse out a raging conflagration without breaking down all the doors, windows, walls and furniture in the process.
Lyon, a co-founder of Prolexic (acquired by Akamai last year for $370 million) and serial entrepreneur and cybersecurity expert, tells me that while the threat to websites persists, this is an area that existing companies like Prolexic can tackle. What he sees as the bigger issue down the road will be how businesses can protect all IP-connected assets beyond that.
“If you look at what a company like Akamai does it’s focused on protecting a website, but there are a lot of other things that run through a network: chat services, VoIP, games, email. A huge number of things beyond a company’s website,” he explains. “We’ve seen the attacks shift in last couple of years from websites to network infrastructure and other aspects of the net.”
As one example of how the face of DDoS has changed, Lyon told me about how Defense.net’s picked up an early beta customer for DDoS Frontline. Employees at a tech company (that I won’t name) in Mountain View, suddenly found that their phones and email accounts had stopped working. They called in Defense.net, which investigated and figure out that it was a DDoS attack.
“We stopped the attack and then helped them track down who was doing it. It turned out to be someone who had set up shop in a parking lot outside, and then used the company’s WiFi connection to launch an air strike,” he says. “We feel that a company that has any serious business going over IP networks should be using this service.”
It also goes beyond enterprise networks, however. The Internet of things — the concept of our world of dumb, physical objects suddenly becoming IP-connected and IP-controllable — makes for especially ripe territory for malicious hackers intent on disabling networks and subsequently using that crack security walls and breach databases. The possibility of turning an army of connected objects into a botnet is what Lyon says motivated him to start Defense.net. “It boggles my mind because you have people buying generic stereos with computers in them now,” he says. “They’ll never get updated. The amount of vulnerabilities being created as all these little computers come into the world, it’s a great hornets nest for botnets.”
As you might expect from a security company, Defense.net is not releasing the names of its customers, but it does cite one, the website creation platform Weebly, as an example of one of the legacy problems that it is competing against: the fact that many companies have tried to create these kinds of services in-house.
“Since Weebly was founded in 2006, we have been somewhat unique in building our own infrastructure in-house, including our DDoS mitigation capabilities,” Chris Fanini, Weebly cofounder and CTO, said in a statement. “While this infrastructure has served us well in successfully thwarting DDoS attacks in the past, we’ve recently seen an increasing number of attacks that are larger and more complex than before.” This, he says, is what motivated the company to effectively outsource the monitoring and protection to Defense.net.
This is the second product to come out of Defense.net since it came out stealth last year. The first was a DDoS backup system launched last autumn.
Defense.net has raised $9.5 million to date with backers including Bessemer Venture Partners and David Cowan.