The network at one of the biggest annual networking shows is being subject to a series of distributed denial of service attacks (DDoS) creating the equivalent of 90 million sessions attempting to use the network at the same time, all as part of a controlled test of the Interop network.

Testing company Ixia is using its Breaking Point hardware boxes to launch mock DDoS attacks against F5 firewalls. Regular network traffic on the InteropNet usually averages about 150Mbps, but it can peak at up to 400Mbps. When Breaking Point turns up the testing though, it floods the network with as much as 70Gbps worth of traffic through the system. These are pretty heavy duty simulations, says Don Shin, a product marketing manager for Ixia.

InteropNet is an amalgamation of products and services from more than 23 vendors, all packed into a series of racks right on the show floor of the Interop expo. One of those boxes is a piece of hardware from Breaking Point, which specialises in making boxes that simulate attacks on a network, including SQL injections and DNS denial of service attacks.

It creates tens of thousands of IP addresses, and simulates them coming from a distributed system. The system is typically used by service providers to test their own systems, but has increasingly been used by enterprises to test their own systems and prevention measures. In addition to serving up the massive distributed DoS attacks, it also simultaneously creates legitimate high-capacity network traffic to test to see how the system has worked.

F5, meanwhile, has two AFM firewall boxes, one sitting at the InteropNet site in Las Vegas, and another one in Denver, where Interop organising group UBM rents collocation space for the show.

The network traffic generated by Breaking Point is legitimate; perhaps the only thing against the test is that F5 knows when the attacks will be coming, in fact the company launches the attacks during presentations throughout the Interop show this week. Even so though, F5 consultant Ken Bocchino says many users know they have attacks coming too. The bigger point is the ability for systems to recognise the attack, divert the malicious traffic, and continue serving the legitimate requests being made to the InteropNet.

Hacktivists have gotten to such a point that groups work together to launch combined attacks, sometimes even with warnings of the impending attacks. Campaign driven-attacks are coordinated efforts to bring down a network, Bocchino says. Increasingly, separate groups of hackers will unite to launch multiple malicious traffic attacks. So, even if the Interop DDoS attacks are mock trials, he says it represents very real problems service providers and enterprises face..

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