A smurf attack can render entire computer networks inoperable in a short amount of time. It’s a type of denial of service (DoS) attack named after a malware module known as DDoS.Smurf.
It refers to the cartoon characters of the same name (The Smurfs) because when Smurfs work together, they can take down larger enemies (i.e., hackers taking down big companies).
There is even a variation known as the Fraggle attack.
The code was originally written by hacker Dan Moschuk (TFreak). The first smurf DoS attack (or one of the first) occurred in 1998 with the University of Minnesota as the target. It resulted in data loss, network slowdown, and computers across the state shutting down.
How Does a Smurf DoS Attack Work?
A smurf attack is a type of denial of service (DoS) attack that overloads network resources.
Once the malware creates a network packet attached to a false IP address (also known as spoofing), the Internet Control Message Protocol (ICMP) ping message inside the packet and requests the networks receiving the packet to reply.
These responses create an infinite loop (also called echoes) that is continuously sent back to the network IP addresses. In this regard, smurf attacks are similar to ping floods.
With IP broadcasting, a cybercriminal can send the malware to every IP address in a network, resulting in complete denial of service.
How Does a Smurf Attack Spread?
Unverified, fake websites and infected email links are the culprits of smurf attacks.
This isn’t to suggest anyone in your company is deliberately downloading files they shouldn’t be touching. This usually occurs without the user knowing because the websites or email links appear from legitimate sources.
Worse, the smurf trojan usually remains dormant on a machine until it is activated by the hacker, which means it is rarely detected, identified, and dealt with in advance.
Smurf programs include rootkits, which makes it easy for a hacker to set up system access on your network and take control. From there, anything can happen.
What Are the Potential Risks of A Smurf Attack?
A smurf attack is a distributed denial of service attack. If the attack succeeds, it can slow and even shut down servers for hours or days at a time.
If employees cannot access essential web applications, productivity can suffer. You cannot make sales if customers cannot purchase products from your website. Both issues lead to the same undesired outcome – lost revenue.
A smurf attack could also be a cover for something much more insidious, however, as cybercriminals may come after specific company files or intellectual property while you are busy responding to the initial attack.
According to IBM’s Cost of Data Breach Report, data breach costs surged 13% from 2020 to 2022. In 2020, the average cost of an attack was $8.6 million.
Losses connected to smurf attacks generally fall under one of three categories:
- Loss or revenue
- Loss of data
- Damaged reputation
What Types of Smurf Attacks Are There?
There are two types of smurf attacks. One is basic; the other is more advanced.
A basic smurf attack utilizes infinite ICMP request packets to overload networks. Since every device on the network receives the request to issue a reply, traffic surges rapidly, taking down the system in the process.
An advanced smurf attack begins just as a basic attack would. Echo requests, however, can be configured to target additional third-party victims. Hackers utilize this technique to target larger networks and/or larger sections of the web.
As noted earlier, a smurf attack is similar to a ping flood, and there is also a variation known as a Fraggle attack.
Smurf Attack Prevention: What to Do
Smurfing cyber security is essential to your company’s overall security. The good news is that there are many steps you can take to ensure a smurf attack doesn’t get the best of you or your company’s resources.
Take advantage of these strategies to ensure you are protected:
- Enable traffic network monitoring
- Disable IP broadcasting
- Take advantage of reliable detection tools and keep them updated (a capable anti-virus / anti-malware solution)
- Block-directed broadcast traffic coming into the network
- Configure your hosts and routers so that they don’t respond to ICMP echo requests
- Purchase additional bandwidth
- Create redundancy (in business, two equals one)
- Protect DNS servers
- Find a skilled security provider
The best cybersecurity solutions and strategies focus on prevention rather than repair. By the time a smurf attack has had the opportunity to play out, it can be too late to repair, and a comprehensive recovery may prove difficult, if not impossible.
No company wants loss of revenue or data or a damaged reputation. To ensure your operations run smoothly, invest appropriately in the IT and security solutions and infrastructures that will protect key assets completely.