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The Dawn of AWS Zombies

by @ 9:34 am
Filed under: hacking,internet — Tags: ,

awsOne of the less enviable tasks in a techie's life is identifying bogus robot traffic on their networks. Robots suck up bandwidth without giving anything in return and in most cases try to brute-force their way into systems and steal information and then assimilate their target hosts into new recruits in their army of zombie robots.

Identifying and neutralizing robots is hard enough, specially those hunting in packs causing DDoS headaches most of the time, but in past there used to be time, resources and funding barriers which moderated these attacks. With cloud services those barriers seem to have all but vanished and based on what I can see, AWS (Amazon Web Services) is one of the ugliest actors on the market. So how are AWS zombies created?

  • Hacker uses a stolen credit card to set up an account on AWS or hacks an existing AWS account.
  • Hacker spins up multiple virtual machines under this account. Or hacker breaks into a legitimate AWS virtual machine.
  • Hacker installs robot apps on one or more virtual machines and launches attacks.
  • Successful attacks bring more power to the hacker.
  • At some point AWS or the legitimate account holders notice high usages in processing, storage, and bandwidth and shut down the operation but by then the damage is done.

Could AWS be complicit in this type of activity? Perhaps not actively, but there is a passive element here as well. I'm sure they won't admit to it, but if a legit account is broken into and its cloud services are stolen, would AWS even care? They just blame the user for being careless and charge him for the usage. AWS may exercise more care in terms of blocking accounts with stolen credit cards because they may not be able to squeeze money out of those cases.

But even then, Amazon is so big with such vast resources that these cases may not even register as a blip on their radar. So the cycle of spawning AWS zombies will never cease and Amazon continues wasting our time, resources and bandwidth with impunity.

It may be an overkill to completely block AWS, but if partial blocking becomes necessary, a list of their public IP address ranges is published here and in json format here.

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