Cyber 5 Threat Insights

During the bustling online shopping period of Thanksgiving weekend, while revenue-focused teams basked in the surge of sales, threats lurked amidst the swelling tide of online traffic. To gain a broader understanding of the threat landscape during this period, we analyzed attack activities during the “Cyber 5” weekend – the five-day period between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday – with a particular focus on commerce sites. We examined how consumer behavior intersects with attack activities to identify prevalent threats and highlight the nuanced dynamics of security risks amidst the busiest shopping days of the year.

Key Insights from our analysis:

Black Friday Leads the Charge: Black Friday stood out with a significant spike in CDN traffic, experiencing a week-over-week increase of more than 10% and peak-period surges of over 50%.

Web attacks in focus: Reflecting on year-over-year data against our top 100 commerce companies, the data revealed a 60% increase in attacks, with a significant shift in attack distribution from Thursday in 2022 to Sunday in 2023. 

Anonymous IP traffic: Approximately 80% of attack traffic originated from anonymous IP addresses, including those from TOR networks, proxies, VPNs, relays, or a connection via a hosting provider.

Layer 7 DDoS Patterns: There was a notable uptick in Layer 7 Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) events across the weekend, with especially sharp increases on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Black Friday Leads the Charge

Cyber 5 2023_Commerce figure
Figure 1: CDN Traffic Volume (Commerce)


The trend of companies presenting their deals weeks ahead of Cyber 5 challenged the premise that we wouldn’t see the traditional surge in traffic over the shopping period. The uncertainty was quickly resolved, as we saw an average increase in traffic of 10% when compared to the previous weeks. Notably, Black Friday saw a surge of more than 50% of CDN traffic during peak periods – more than any other day during the Cyber 5 period. While Cyber Monday saw heightened traffic, it did not significantly distinguish itself from the overall traffic observed.

Web Attacks in Focus


Leveraging the signal data from our Next-Gen WAF (NGWAF), our analysis showed an average increase of 20% in web attack attempts compared to the previous weeks. Interestingly, the most significant surge in attacks did not happen on Black Friday or Cyber Monday, but rather from Saturday through Sunday, with as much as 90% more during peak periods, as shown in Figure 2.

Cyber 5 threats_NGWAF Attack volume
Figure 2: NGWAF Attack Volume (Commerce)


Looking closer at the week of Cyber 5, we identified the five most common types of web attacks during this period: Cross-Site Scripting (XSS), SQL Injection (SQLI), Traversal, Command Execution (CMDEXE), and exploits targeting the Log4j Vulnerability (LOG4J). Notably, there was a substantial number of Traversal and XSS attack attempts between Saturday and Sunday, as shown in Figure 3.

Cyber 5_Commerce attack type
Figure 3: NGWAF Attack Volume by Type (Commerce)


Reflecting on year-over-year data against our top 100 commerce companies, the data revealed a 60% increase in attacks, with a significant shift in attack distribution. In 2022, the peak of these attacks was experienced on Thanksgiving, but in 2023, Sunday emerged as the new peak, experiencing a 15 % increase compared to the same day the previous year.

Cyber 5_NGWAF attack YoY
Figure 4: NGWAF Attack Comparison YOY (Commerce)

Anonymous IP Traffic


Enriching the attack traffic using IPInfo’s privacy dataset, we revealed that approximately 80% of the attacks during the five-day period originated from anonymous IP addresses, including those from TOR networks, proxies, VPNs, relays, or a connection via a hosting provider, which could potentially be used to tunnel traffic and mask the true IP address.

Cyber 5_IP Types Commerce
Figure 5: Breakdown of Anonymous IP Types (Commerce)


Breaking down the anonymous IP traffic by Autonomous System (AS) sources shows that about 55% of the traffic originates from Digital Ocean and over 70% of attacks were within the United States.

Cyber 5_Anonymous IP Traffic by ASN and country
Figure 6: Anonymous IP Traffic by ASN and Country (Commerce)


These insights highlight the challenges in tracing and managing security threats that leverage anonymizing services to obfuscate malicious activities.

Layer 7 DDoS Patterns

Significant increases in Layer 7 DDoS events were observed on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. When compared to our NGWAF attack data, the peak periods of attack traffic observed on Saturday and Sunday do not coincide with these DDoS events. This challenges the notion that DDoS attacks are used to mask exploitation attacks.

Cyber 5_Layer 7 DDoS Events
Figure 7: Layer 7 DDoS Events (Commerce)


Overall the sources of these events were very distributed, with the top Autonomous Systems (AS) sources being very evenly matched. However, the data shows a shift from the expected dominance of cheap VPS providers as the source of these DDoS events, to a more distributed mix between VPS providers and home ISPs.

Cyber 5_DDoS Traffic Sources
Figure 8: DDoS Traffic Sources by ASN and Country (Commerce)


This fairly even distribution cannot be said for the source country of the DDoS events, with Indonesia standing out from the top 10 at 16%. This is not surprising considering Indonesia is one of the top countries in the world for MikroTik routers, as indicated by data from Shodan.

MikroTik routers are common and are highly targeted for botnets. Attackers exploit the router’s vulnerabilities to absorb them into the botnet, then use them as proxies to hide the true source of the botnet’s traffic. MikroTik router botnets have been a common source of DDoS attacks analyzed by our Customer Security Operations Center (CSOC) team.

Recommendations

  • Focus on high-risk periods: Increase monitoring and consider updating WAF rules, patching known vulnerabilities, and conducting regular resilience tests and chaos experiments. For additional guidance, refer to our blog, Managed Security Tips for Black Friday.

  • Use rate limiting: Rate limiting helps control the spikes in traffic experienced during a DDoS attack. We also recommend using a tiered approach with rate limiting thresholds, like applying stricter thresholds to more sensitive paths, including authentication pages, search pages, and other resource-intensive endpoints. 

  • Apply controls around Anonymous IP sources: Defenders can use the presence of Anonymous IP sources to enrich security policies on demand as a preemptive measure. Specifically, we recommend implementing more stringent controls, such as increased logging, monitoring, and threshold-based actions when these attributes are detected.

Simran Khalsa
Staff Security Researcher
Charlie Bricknell
Senior CSOC Analyst
Published

3 min read

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Simran Khalsa
Staff Security Researcher

Simran is a Staff Security Researcher at Fastly where he focuses on threat intelligence, vulnerability research, and product innovation. He enjoys researching novel attack techniques and fortifying technology to prevent real-world web attacks. He has spent his career on both the offensive and defensive sides of the industry in both public and private sectors with an emphasis on building modern security solutions.

Charlie Bricknell
Senior CSOC Analyst

Charlie Bricknell is a Senior CSOC Analyst in the Fastly EMEA Region. He has worked in various roles in the industry dealing with security threats in their many forms. Charlie enjoys researching new threats and developing innovative ways to detect and mitigate them for Fastly's customers. Outside of his professional life, Charlie is passionate about climbing and photography.

The Fastly Security Research Team focuses on ensuring our customers have the tools and data available to them to keep their systems secure. They analyze and ultimately help prevent attacks at Fastly scale. The team is a group of behind-the-scenes security experts who are here to help you stay on the cutting edge of the ever-evolving security landscape.

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