What Is a Smurf Attack? Definition & Protection

  • By Greg Brown
  • Oct 14, 2022

smurf attack definition

Smurf Attacks are not the cute, short adorable blue characters that set up camp in your cabinets. These incursions are a form of DDoS attacks sent to multiple IP addresses, disrupting a network’s bandwidth.

Smurf malware code exploits the internet protocol (IP) and the internet control message protocols (ICMP). The malware creates packets containing ping messages, asking network nodes to send back a reply. An infinite loop is created when Smurf Malware creates fake echo or reply requests sent back to the IP address.

Echo replies contain a fake IP address, the source server’s IP address. Smurf attacks are similar in nature to a ping flood, which is a server overwhelmed with ICMP echo requests. The potential for damage is amplified by exploiting the characteristics of a broadcast network and Smurf code. 

Smurf Attack Scenario

  • Malware code forces the network node to send back a fake echo address with a packet containing a spoofed IP address, which is the server address. 
  • Requests are sent to intermediate networks. 
  • Each host on the network receives a request.
  • With enough ICMP requests, the network is compromised and shut down by a denial of service.

Smurf Attack got its unique name from an exploit tool used in the 1990s, which created a large amount of small ICMP packets. 

What is a DDoS Attack?

A Distributed Denial of Service Attack or DDoS attack may send thousands of requests to the same resource trying to reach its capacity. DDoS attacks are often sent directly to the server and then onto a part of the network. Most of the time, a DDoS assault on a specific network piece may be part of an overall ransomware attack strategy. Smurf Attacks are used to create a diversion for attackers who want to go after larger pieces of the network.

Ransomware is another insidious code designed to get the attacker paid handsomely for their services.

Admins manage the network by placing finite times for simultaneous services on servers, workstations, and smaller network resources. There are also finite times on network bandwidth and capacity. When requests outweigh the number of resources, the network suffers. 

Top-level attackers go after big money with ransomware. From 2015 to 2019, the internet saw some of the most significant ransomware attacks in online personal and business information history. Revil, TeslaCrypt, SamSam, and WannaCry infected millions of computer systems and networks in a few short years. 

WannaCry, in 2017 the virus attacked the Windows operating systems that were not updated. WannaCry went in through a faulty security patch for EternalBlue. Millions of computers were encrypted, and the attackers demanded $300 to $600 bitcoin to unlock each account.

Smurf

Smurf attacks are some of the simplest and most effective malware codes, targeting any size company or government facility. The first Smurf attack can be traced back to the early 1990s when a targeted attack was aimed at the University of Minnesota. The Smurf code shut down the entire state for nearly an hour, with aftereffects felt for weeks. Reading CNET’s description of the event, it was apparent few people were familiar with a denial of service attack on their servers.

When attackers combine the Smurf code with IP Broadcasting, attacks cause a total denial of service for any network it engages. Smurf attacks can also be a trojan, downloaded from an unverified website or unmonitored email address. Trojan code may lie dormant inside a computer system or other device for weeks, even months, until activated. Smurf code can be activated remotely or by another piece of software booting up.

Smurf attack code works best on large corporate and government networks with hundreds of network nodes. The same message packet sent to one IP is sent to all, completely jamming up the works and causing a lot of overloads and DDoS error codes.

Prevention Strategies

Filtering all incoming traffic, including packets and headers, is an excellent first step. Smurf attacks are a resource consumption malware attack code. Smurf aims to flood network resources with spoofed ICMP packets. 

A Smurf attack’s ultimate goal is to use up all available bandwidth. 

Mitigating a Smurf attack is about the router. Two configurations should be made to company routers, starting the mitigation of Smurf. These are minor adjustments but will do a lot to shut down the code.

  1. Disable IP broadcast addressing on all network routers
  2. Make certain routers, and other devices are configured to not forward or respond to ICMP echo requests

Firewalls

Firewalls are another good step in preventing a Smurf Attack. Ensure to configure any firewall to block pings formatted from a server outside the network. Many of the newer routers default to a lot of the above settings.

Packet filtering firewalls are helpful, but they do have limitations. With web traffic allowed, packet filtering firewalls do not block many web-based attacks. Network admins will need to make sure they distinguish between friendly and malicious traffic. 

Stateful multi-layer inspection firewalls (SMLI) have a standard firewall configuration and will keep track of established connections. SMLI filters traffic based on state, port, protocol, and admin rules. The SMLI firewall is a step above the packet filtering firewall because of its multi-layer monitoring. 

Scrubbing centers can filter the results and send clean data back to the company or government. Global network gear builders, such as Cisco, are quickly helping to mitigate the Smurf code by having a leading DDoS scrubbing center. The global cloud-based service allows vulnerable companies to pay for clean data.

Keep Your Information Protected

smurf attack prevention

Modern corporate and government computer and network systems are constantly under siege from every imaginable piece of malware located around the globe. Network and sys admins are getting paid well to keep out malicious code that can bring down a corporate network in minutes. 

Each year brings new code and adorable names to keep the uninformed off-balance. Most new, malicious code is designed to find an entry by way of the uninformed and out-of-touch user. 

Every corporate and government network user should have a sense of responsibility to eradicate malicious threats.

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