Cybersecurity is often a cat-and-mouse game. For antivirus and anti-malware developers, it is a constant hunt for vulnerabilities and how to prevent enterprising malware authors from capitalizing on the fact that software would often have unpatched flaws and loopholes, not to mention that ordinary users can easily succumb to social engineering attacks.
For businesses, malware and other attacks can be particularly debilitating, as these can result in business delays, lost productivity, hurt reputations and a negative impact on the bottomline. But perhaps the biggest source of trouble for businesses today would be from distributed denial-of-service or DDoS attacks.
This is a type of traffic-based attack favored by attackers for taking target sites offline, have caused enterprises an average of $2.5 million per attack. While the cost might be smaller for small businesses with digital assets, the impact can further be amplified by the loss of customer trust, which is cited as the most harmful impact of a DDoS.
As the name implies, DDoS attackers favor a distributed means of executing their attack. In particular, such enterprising entities would employ a global network of zombie machines that continuously drive traffic toward a target site, rendering it unusable by either consuming its bandwidth allocation, flooding it with traffic, or depleting resources on the application layer.
As for the economics of a DDoS attack, some machines or machine networks called “booters” or “stressers”, which attackers would pay on an hourly or per-attack basis. While many of these companies are used for legitimate stress testing on corporate networks, the same systems can also be used for nefarious means.
Meanwhile, some attackers employ a ransom-type mechanism in which they threaten business owners with DDoS attacks unless the attackers are paid some “protection” or “ransom” money.
One step ahead?
Since attackers are already using networks of zombie computers and bad bots, why can’t legitimate users do the same? Currently, a business’ arsenal for DDoS mitigation can include a handful of cloud-based services, such as Cloudflare, Imperva, Akamai, and the like.
While the cloud offers a distributed infrastructure, it is not yet a truly decentralized approach. The infrastructure is still essentially managed and controlled by the solution owner. This means platform owners still have a big overhead, in terms of infrastructure and cost, and would therefore pass this on to clients and customers, even those on a supposedly dynamic subscription.
“Cloud computing can offer vast amounts of processing power, but often at a fixed monthly price, regardless of how much usage there actually is,” says Max Niebylski, founder and CEO at up-and-coming startup Gladius. The Blockchain based startup aims to utilize excess bandwidth and processing capacity from its network of users across the globe in absorbing and mitigating DDoS attacks. “By paying pools directly for the bandwidth used, cost is greatly optimized.”
Gladius will run its network on top of blockchain technology, which involves a distributed ledger for establishing consensus across a distributed network of nodes. This could be the solution to having a truly distributed mechanism for DDoS protection – essentially responding to botnet attacks in a similar fashion that attackers execute their act, which is from end-users’ computers.
By tokenizing the use of resources, users who join the network effectively become nodes in the Blockchain. Such users gain an opportunity to earn cryptocurrency in exchange for volunteering their machines and bandwidth capacity for DDoS protection.
Speeding up the internet
It’s not only DDoS protection where Gladius is promising. Due to the distributed nature of its nodes, it is only but natural that the bandwidth, storage, and computing resources can also be put to good use in optimizing websites for speed through a global content delivery network or CDN.
While a cloud-based CDN such as Cloudflare would cache dynamic and static website content across their points-of-presence or networks of computers across the globe, Gladius’ system does not involve such overhead. As with DDoS protection, it utilizes users’ nodes in order to cache content and ensure speedy delivery for users across the globe.
Democratizing internet services
Gladius is in the initial stages of raising capital through an initial coin offering (ICO), wherein users can acquire tokens. These can, in turn, be used to acquire the DDoS protection and CDN services once the distributed network is online.
By empowering end-users to give back to the community or network, and by providing fair compensation for services or computing cycles rendered, blockchain technology is fostering what can be considered a true sharing economy. Initially finding its roots in fintech, Blockchains have matured to the point that practically any industry can be disrupted by distributed consensus, sharing, and information exchange mechanisms.
With Gladius and similar distributed networks, the road to traction would, of course, depend on the rate of user adoption, and whether the compensation scheme would be enough to encourage users to pitch in with their own resources.
Written by Oren Rofman