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Conference Paper
Ke, Yu-Ming, Chen, Chih-Wei, Hsiao, Hsu-Chun, Perrig, Adrian, Sekar, Vyas.  2016.  CICADAS: Congesting the Internet with Coordinated and Decentralized Pulsating Attacks. Proceedings of the 11th ACM on Asia Conference on Computer and Communications Security. :699–710.

This study stems from the premise that we need to break away from the "reactive" cycle of developing defenses against new DDoS attacks (e.g., amplification) by proactively investigating the potential for new types of DDoS attacks. Our specific focus is on pulsating attacks, a particularly debilitating type that has been hypothesized in the literature. In a pulsating attack, bots coordinate to generate intermittent pulses at target links to significantly reduce the throughput of TCP connections traversing the target. With pulsating attacks, attackers can cause significantly greater damage to legitimate users than traditional link flooding attacks. To date, however, pulsating attacks have been either deemed ineffective or easily defendable for two reasons: (1) they require a central coordinator and can thus be tracked; and (2) they require tight synchronization of pulses, which is difficult even in normal non-congestion scenarios. This paper argues that, in fact, the perceived drawbacks of pulsating attacks are in fact not fundamental. We develop a practical pulsating attack called CICADAS using two key ideas: using both (1) congestion as an implicit signal for decentralized implementation, and (2) a Kalman-filter-based approach to achieve tight synchronization. We validate CICADAS using simulations and wide-area experiments. We also discuss possible countermeasures against this attack.

Sekar, Vyas.  2016.  Enabling Software-Defined Network Security for Next-Generation Networks. Proceedings of the 12th International on Conference on Emerging Networking EXperiments and Technologies. :1–1.

The state of network security today is quite abysmal. Security breaches and downtime of critical infrastructures continue to be the norm rather than the exception, despite the dramatic rise in spending on network security. Attackers today can easily leverage a distributed and programmable infrastructure of compromised machines (or botnets) to launch large-scale and sophisticated attack campaigns. In contrast, the defenders of our critical infrastructures are fundamentally crippled as they rely on fixed capacity, inflexible, and expensive hardware appliances deployed at designated "chokepoints". These primitive defense capabilities force defenders into adopting weak and static security postures configured for simple and known attacks, or otherwise risk user revolt, as they face unpleasant tradeoffs between false positives and false negatives. Unfortunately, attacks can easily evade these defenses; e.g., piggybacking on popular services (e.g., drive-by-downloads) and by overloading the appliances. Continuing along this trajectory means that attackers will always hold the upper hand as defenders are stifled by the inflexible and impotent tools in their arsenal. An overarching goal of my work is to change the dynamics of this attack-defense equation. Instead of taking a conventional approach of developing attack-specific defenses, I argue that we can leverage recent trends in software-defined networking and network functions virtualization to better empower defenders with the right tools and abstractions to tackle the constantly evolving attack landscape. To this end, I envision a new software-defined approach to network security, where we can rapidly develop and deploy novel in-depth defenses and dynamically customize the network's security posture to the current operating context. In this talk, I will give an overview of our recent work on the basic building blocks to enable this vision as well as some early security capabilities we have developed. Using anecdotes from this specific exercise, I will also try to highlight lessons and experiences in the overall research process (e.g., how to pick and formulate problems, the role of serendipity, and the benefits of finding ``bridges'' to other subdomains).

Qazi, Zafar Ayyub, Penumarthi, Phani Krishna, Sekar, Vyas, Gopalakrishnan, Vijay, Joshi, Kaustubh, Das, Samir R..  2016.  KLEIN: A Minimally Disruptive Design for an Elastic Cellular Core. Proceedings of the Symposium on SDN Research. :2:1–2:12.

Today's cellular core, which connects the radio access network to the Internet, relies on fixed hardware appliances placed at a few dedicated locations and uses relatively static routing policies. As such, today's core design has key limitations—it induces inefficient provisioning tradeoffs and is poorly equipped to handle overload, failure scenarios, and diverse application requirements. To address these limitations, ongoing efforts envision "clean slate" solutions that depart from cellular standards and routing protocols; e.g., via programmable switches at base stations and per-flow SDN-like orchestration. The driving question of this work is to ask if a clean-slate redesign is necessary and if not, how can we design a flexible cellular core that is minimally disruptive. We propose KLEIN, a design that stays within the confines of current cellular standards and addresses the above limitations by combining network functions virtualization with smart resource management. We address key challenges w.r.t. scalability and responsiveness in realizing KLEIN via backwards-compatible orchestration mechanisms. Our evaluations through data-driven simulations and real prototype experiments using OpenAirInterface show that KLEIN can scale to billions of devices and is close to optimal for wide variety of traffic and deployment parameters.

Heorhiadi, Victor, Fayaz, SeyedKaveh, Reiter, Michael K., Sekar, Vyas.  2014.  SNIPS: A Software-Defined Approach for Scaling Intrusion Prevention Systems via Offloading. 10th International Conference on Information Systems Security, ICISS 2014. 8880

Growing traffic volumes and the increasing complexity of attacks pose a constant scaling challenge for network intrusion prevention systems (NIPS). In this respect, offloading NIPS processing to compute clusters offers an immediately deployable alternative to expensive hardware upgrades. In practice, however, NIPS offloading is challenging on three fronts in contrast to passive network security functions: (1) NIPS offloading can impact other traffic engineering objectives; (2) NIPS offloading impacts user perceived latency; and (3) NIPS actively change traffic volumes by dropping unwanted traffic. To address these challenges, we present the SNIPS system. We design a formal optimization framework that captures tradeoffs across scalability, network load, and latency. We provide a practical implementation using recent advances in software-defined networking without requiring modifications to NIPS hardware. Our evaluations on realistic topologies show that SNIPS can reduce the maximum load by up to 10× while only increasing the latency by 2%.