HIJACKS: Detecting and Characterizing Internet Traffic Interception based on BGP Hijacking
An abbreviated version of the original proposal is shown below. For the full proposal for "Detecting and Characterizing Internet Traffic Interception based on BGP Hijacking", please see the HIJACKS proposal in PDF.
Principal Investigator: Alberto Dainotti
Funding source: NSF CNS-1423659 Period of performance: August 1, 2014 - January 31, 2019.
1 Motivation and goalsThe Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) is the protocol used to route traffic between autonomous systems (ASes) on the Internet. Designed when the Internet was comprised of a few cooperative ASes, BGP lacks any form of path or origin validation, leaving it extremely vulnerable to attacks and misconfiguration. One example is the fact that networks can advertise illegitimate paths that redirect traffic destined for another network to themselves - known as BGP hijacking . Researchers, operators and media have documented and studied BGP hijacks that impact network reachability. Such events either create a traffic black hole (e.g., because of a route leak, or to perform a denial-of-service attack) or illicitly use the victim's address block, e.g., to execute an anonymized spamming campaign, or otherwise impersonate the victim [2,3,4,5]. However, in 2010, China Telecom's hijack of traffic destined to 50,000 prefixes demonstrated that large-scale traffic interception (i.e., where hijacked traffic eventually reaches its intended destination) can also occur on the Internet [3,6]. While this incident gained wide press exposure  and attention from the U.S. government , it was largely assumed such interception incidents were usually unintentional and in any event too rare to merit concerted attention. In November 2013, Renesys Corporation  documented and brought to public attention several incidents of massive Internet traffic interception resulting in traffic detouring through unintended countries and even continents (affecting financial institutions, governments, and VoIP providers), and showed that such behavior is increasing. The potential harm caused by these large-scale "man-in-the-middle" attacks can be nefarious, ranging from massive eavesdropping to identity spoofing or selective content modification. In addition, executing such attacks does not require access or proximity to the affected links and networks, posing increasing risks to national security. Worse yet, the impact of traffic interception on the Internet is practically unknown, with even large-scale and long-lasting events apparently often going unnoticed by the victims . The natural fix to such design issue is the adoption of BGPSEC and RPKI [10,11]. However, despite standardization efforts  deployment of these technologies is slow , and even these measures will not completely eliminate the threat of traffic interception on the Internet . This vulnerability will persist, leaving our critical communication infrastructure dramatically exposed. Characterizing and mitigating traffic interception faces several challenges that distinguish it from other well-studied types of prefix hijacks. First, unlike prefix hijacks that drop traffic or impersonate the victim AS, the impact of interception is much more subtle, since traffic can still reach the intended destination. Second, detecting and confirming these incidents requires combined analysis of path changes in the control plane observed via BGP data as well as data-plane measurements of traffic paths and their associated delays, since the mechanism triggering the attack operates on the inter-domain routing plane, but the impact is only measurable in the data plane during the event. This lack of ongoing targeted measurement of hijacks has hindered attempts to characterize or quantify their impact . Finally, any method for identifying interceptions needs to be efficient (due to the potentially large number of paths and network destinations being monitored) and highly accurate (due to the political implications of interceptions that cross national boundaries ). We propose to address these challenges by devising a methodology specifically designed for this type of attack, based on agile analysis of control and data plane measurement (Section 3.2). This methodology will be supported by a measurement infrastructure that we will extend to perform targeted active measurements when suspicious events occur (Section 3.1). Efficient correlation of diverse data sources (e.g., BGP live feeds, AS relationships, targeted active probing, historical traceroute data) will enable accurate detection, characterization and quantification of impact. We will validate and refine our methods through collaboration with operators and other researchers. Finally, we will use our methodology and infrastructure to produce and disseminate data about traffic interception on the Internet to relevant communities: ISPs, Internet security researchers, standards bodies, and policy makers (Section 3.3).
2 Background and Related WorkWe present background on BGP's vulnerability to hijacks and efforts to prevent and detect them.
2.1 Insecurity of BGPBGP was designed when the Internet was comprised of a few ASes with strong social and institutional incentives to cooperate. The original underlying architecture included no mechanisms to validate or authenticate messages sent by ASes, which makes it is highly vulnerable to routing incidents caused by misconfiguration or attacks [15,3,4], including hijacking. These incidents include large-scale route leaks , where an AS originates a large number of prefixes allocated to other ASes (e.g., the China Telecom incident ) and more suspicious forms of path manipulation, where an AS may announce a path that does not actually exist in the AS-graph . In addition to these two vulnerabilities - which are prevented by RPKI  and BGPSEC , respectively - there are two more techniques ASes may use to intercept traffic which are not solved by these protocols. The first is interception by an AS that removes AS path prepending by the victim AS . AS path prepending is when an AS announces a BGP path with its AS number repeated multiple times, to make the path through a given neighbor less desirable. By removing AS prepending, an intercepting AS can make their path to the victim appear more attractive, and thus intercept a larger volume of traffic. The second type of interception, which is not resolved by RPKI and BGPSEC, is interception where an AS is willing to advertise a path for which it does not obtain revenue . These paths are said to violate the valley-free assumption, which states that an AS will advertise paths through its customers to all neighboring ASes, but will only advertise paths through its peers and providers to customers. While announcements violating the valley-free assumption are not technically attacks, since an AS may legitimately choose to transit traffic for which it does not obtain revenue, we plan to monitor instances of these violations for ASes who may use these announcements for interception.
2.2 Resource Public Key Infrastructure and BGPSECThere have been extensive efforts in the standards bodies to design solutions to overcome BGP's vulnerabilities . The most recent and promising are the Resource Public Key Infrastructure (RPKI) [18,19] and BGPSEC . RPKI is a hierarchical public key infrastructure designed to certify ownership of IP prefixes by ASes, currently being standardized by the IETF [12,11] and implemented by the regional Internet registries (RIRs) [18,19]. Using the RPKI and a chain of valid certificates from a trust anchor, network operators can determine if the AS originating an IP prefix has been authorized to do so. BGPSEC  uses the RPKI to manage cryptographic keys which are used by ASes deploying the protocol to sign and validate BGP routing announcements: an AS that receives a signed announcement is able to validate that every AS on the path actually sent the corresponding announcement. While RPKI and BGPSEC would alleviate many of the security problems that currently plague the interdomain routing system, their deployment faces many political, technical, and economic challenges such as agreement on a trust anchor for RPKI , correct configuration of RPKI  by ISPs, and lack of incentives for networks to deploy these protocols . Additionally, RPKI and BGPSEC only ensure that announcements are valid, they do not prevent against ASes intentionally violating the valley-free policy and exporting valid paths to their peers and providers in order to intercept traffic 
2.3 Detecting BGP hijacksWhile efforts to prevent BGP hijacks require massive industry coordination, systems that detect these incidents can be implemented by a single enterprise (e.g., Renesys ) or even an academic institution (e.g., Cyclops ). As a result, many research efforts focus on detection and characterization of such attacks, proposing approaches based on the analysis of control-plane [24,25,26,27,16], data-plane information [28,29], as well as their combination [30,31]. Detection methods based on control-plane measurements typically rely on detection of Multiple Origin AS (MOAS) conflicts, where a single prefix is originated by multiple ASes. Once MOAS conflicts are detected, these methods filter false positives, using information provided by the owner of the prefix  or additional data sources  such as the list of providers of the potential-victim network. Distinguishing routine traffic engineering from attacks or misconfigurations using only control plane (BGP) data is challenging; most techniques yield many false positives or only identify very large events with confidence . Approaches that monitor data-plane connectivity  can detect a drop in traffic reaching the victim, but in order to distinguish a hijack from another network failure they usually adopt prefix-owner-based solutions. Zhang et al. , for example, generate an alert whenever the reachability of a monitored prefix from a set of topologically close providers is hindered . Similarly, Zheng et al. try to detect prefix hijacks by identifying significant path changes in traceroutes to a prefix from different vantage points . These approaches can be faster than those based on existing BGP feeds, which are limited by their update period (e.g., RIPE releases BGP updates every 15 minutes ). However, they face scalability challenges and usually can only be deployed per-AS, which precludes global analysis. Limitations of data-plane and control-plane measurements in isolation led to the development of hybrid approaches, such as using anomalies observed in the control-plane to trigger data-plane measurements from a set of vantage points (e.g., PlanetLab  or public looking glass servers [30,31]). Such approaches look for conflicting data-plane information when a prefix is announced by multiple networks  or correlate failed data-plane measurements (e.g., ping) with control-plane information (routing tables) from the same vantage point . While such hybrid approaches can dramatically improve accuracy in hijack detection over methods relying on control-plane or data-plane information, none of the existing methods has been designed explicitly to detect traffic interception. In fact, techniques that rely on failed data-plane reachability as a signature of an incident (e.g., Argus , iSPY ) preclude identifying traffic interceptions since they do not exhibit this symptom. systems that are able to identify some hijacking attacks leading to a potential interception (e.g.,  are not well suited to detect subtle interceptions (e.g., those caused by export policy violations  or manipulations of path prepending ).
2.4 Analysis of Traffic InterceptionA review of the current literature highlights a scarcity of research on the detection and analysis of actual traffic interception events. Most prior work focuses on simulating interceptions to understand their potential impact and characterize the risk posed by different ASes [14,34], or performs controlled interceptions to demonstrate their feasibility [34,2]. The few in-depth studies of interception in the wild have either relied on proprietary data [3,9] or publicly available datasets that not not amenable to precise quantification of the scale and impact of interception events . To support its proprietary data collection, analysis, and reporting, Renesys maintains hundreds of BGP monitors and vantage points that (per their web page) send on the order of billions of measurements daily , but they do not share their data or methods. PI Gill demonstrated the value of large-scale, real-time data collection in her case study of China Telecom's interception of 50,000 IP prefixes in 2010 , which unlike other coverage [35,3] included publishing a detailed methodology for analyzing its impact. PI Gill's work relied solely on measurement infrastructures available to academic researchers: BGP monitors [32,] and ongoing but untargeted data-plane measurements from iPlane . Our proposal will fill gaps in the existing research literature. To support systematic evaluation of new mechanisms we develop to detect hijacks, we will develop infrastructure that can implement and deploy the mechanisms as we design them. This infrastructure will allow us to not only track interception events in real-time, but also to quantify their impact. We will publish our techniques and analysis results for evaluation and reproducibility by others, and to promote a more complete understanding of the prevalence and impact of role of BGP hijacking and traffic interception events on the Internet.
3 Proposed WorkOur proposed work leverages our existing infrastructure and extends it to enable near real-time detection of traffic interception events (Section 3.1). Since continuous distributed active measurements for each routed network prefix is not feasible due to measurement overhead, we take a two-step approach. First, we continuously monitor the control-plane for anomalies (Section 3.2.1) and then use on-demand data-plane measurements to diagnose interception (Section 3.2.2) and quantify its impact (Section 3.2.3). Finally, we will disseminate data from our platform and gain feedback from operators, researchers, and policymakers. (Section 3.3).
3.1 Task 1: Extend and refine infrastructure for data collection and analysis
Figure 1: Our infrastructure for data collection and analysis. Portions in red denote components to be developed and
integrated as part of this proposal, whereas components deployed within previous or ongoing synergistic projects are in blue.
Collection and preprocessing of BGP feeds. We will process BGP measurements collected by three distinct BGP data collection projects that publish at different latencies:
- Routeviews : 329 peers; typically less than 20 minutes latency;
- RIPE RIS : 209 peers; latency varies between 10 minutes and 2 hours;
- BGPmon : 60 peers (almost entirely overlapping with Routeviews); live stream of BGP updates, few seconds of latency.
BGP monitoring: extraction of metrics and anomaly detection. In this task, we will add software modules to (i) extract specific metrics from BGP feeds (e.g., number of prefixes advertised per AS) and (ii) monitor them for anomalies that may be related to suspicious events (Section 3.2.1).
Figure 2: As of November 2013, there are 83 Ark monitors in 36 countries.
- Archipelago (Ark) active measurement infrastructure. Ark  is CAIDA's active measurement infrastructure  running software that enables it to operate many active monitors as a coordinated secure measurement platform. Figure 2 depicts the 83 Ark monitors currently deployed. Ark supports rapid prototyping by promoting software development at a high-level of abstraction using dynamic scripting languages and pre-built APIs and services. It uses Ruby  for measurements and related libraries, and to control measurement modules, including scamper , a flexible active measurement tool supporting ping and several traceroute variants (TCP, UDP, and ICMP, and Paris ). Ark also supports decentralized measurement processes executing autonomously at each monitor and communicating as needed, for example, to trigger further measurements or analyses based on observed events. We will use Ark's APIs and services to implement logic for conducting targeted active measurements when suspicious events occur. We will also coordinate with other Ark's funded activities in order to deploy additional Ark monitors in locations that are beneficial to our methodology. For example, Ark monitors located within ASes that peer with either Routeviews or RIPE RIS can support systematic comparison of data-plane (traceroute-measured) AS paths with (control-plane) BGP AS paths. (Ark currently has 26 monitors located within ASes that peer with either Routeviews or RIPE RIS).
- Supporting Databases. Section 3.2 describes how several sources of Internet measurement data and meta-data support our methodology, some of which are already integrated into our platform, e.g., IP Geolocation, BGP-prefix-to-AS mapping. To support detection and analysis of suspicious events, we will integrate several additional databases, including: RPKI information from ISPs, AS business relationships inferences, a sliding window of historical traceroute data from Ark, and Internet Routing Registries (IRR) information.
- Coordination of active measurements, data correlation, and diagnosis. This software module takes as input anomalies detected at the control plane, and orchestrates targeted active measurements to capture dynamics of the anomaly. It will then try to diagnose the event by correlating data from targeted active measurements with control-plane measurements (e.g., AS paths inferred from traceroutes vs. AS paths announced via BGP) and with other information in our supporting databases, such as previous traceroutes towards the same prefixes (Section 3.2.2).
- Event characterization and impact assessment. When an event is classified as interception, this software module performs additional measurements, runs simulations of the AS-level topology based on AS paths advertised on the control plane, and combines this information with supporting data or meta-data to quantify its impact, e.g., in terms of ASes and geographical regions involved (Section 3.2.3).
3.2 Task 2: Design a method for detecting and characterizing traffic interceptionWe will use the infrastructure described in Section 3.1 to detect interceptions by coupling passive monitoring of BGP messages (Section 3.2.1) with targeted active measurements (Section 3.2.2), to provide near real-time detection of traffic interception events on the Internet. We will also combine empirical data, simulations, and qualitative analysis to understand the technical and political impact of these incidents (Section 3.2.3).
3.2.1 BGP measurements and analysisWe will use the interface to BGP data provided by our infrastructure to discover anomalies including but not limited to the following:
- Multiple Origin AS (MOAS). When an AS that has not previously originated a prefix begins to do so, we will flag it as an anomaly. However, there are many legitimate reasons that a prefix may be originated by multiple ASes (e.g., anycast, IP transfers, prefix de-aggregation, sibling-ASes ). We will use Internet Routing Registries data (IRRs) , peeringdb , and inferred AS relationships  in order to filter out MOAS conflicts that appear legitimate. For example, if IRRs confirm that two ASes are part of the same organization, we do not consider it suspicious for one AS to announce prefixes belonging to the other. Similarly, it is not anomalous for ASes that are members of an IXP to announce a prefix belonging to the IXP's AS . Using these datasets and information collected from the operator community (e.g., via the web dashboard described in Section 3.3) we will curate a list of MOAS violations that are a normal part of the Internet's routing system and thus do not require further analysis through active measurements.
- Increase in prefixes originated by each AS. In the case of the China Telecom interception, the incident resulted from a leak of 50,000 prefixes by China Telecom's network , observable as 50,000 new prefixes originated by China Telecom's data center AS 23724. This rapid increase in prefixes announced by an AS is a strong indicator of a large-scale incident e.g., a route leak . To decrease our false negative rate, we will experiment with varying thresholds on the number of new prefixes an AS announces, and the time period over which they make these announcements.
- Violations of the "valley-free" assumption . We will leverage CAIDA's AS topology and relationship inference data  to identify BGP paths that violate the valley-free assumption (illustrated in Figure 3b). These violations may occur for many reasons, such as accidental route leaks, intentional agreements between ASes, or even as a result of errors in our AS relationship inferences. We will consider violations of the valley-free assumption as anomalies to further investigate with active measurements. However, as with MOAS anomalies, we will work with providers to curate a list of known exceptions to this assumption, which will not only reduce the false positives at this stage, but may have the added benefit of helping to improve the accuracy of AS relationship inferences.
- New edges in the AS graph. We will monitor the set of edges observed in BGP announcements (similar to how Argus tracks pairs of ASes observed in BGP paths ). Using only control-plane data it is incredibly challenging to differentiate new edges that appear for legitimate reasons from path poisoning (Figure 3c). Data plane measurements will help us validate that new edges are not due to interception, in which case we will add them to a list of previously seen edges. As failures happen and ASes explore backup paths, over time we should gain a more complete view of all edges we should expect to see.
- Inconsistent prepending announcements. A recently documented interception attack involves manipulating AS prepending in paths  (Figure 3d). In this attack, the malicious AS strips path prepending from an AS path prior to forwarding an announcement. For each prefix, we can monitor the amount of prepending the originating AS adds before forwarding an announcement to each of its upstream providers, and flag sudden changes as anomalies.
Figure 3: Examples of interceptions that may be detected using the indicators in Section 3.2.1
3.2.2 Diagnosing BGP interception with targeted active measurementsFor each event detected as suspicious, the module described in the previous section generates relevant meta-data, including which type of anomaly was observed, potential victim prefixes and ASes, and relevant AS paths to measure. Based on this meta-data, we will execute traceroutes from all Ark monitors to potential victim prefixes, and convert the resulting IP-level paths into AS-level paths using state-of-the-art techniques (e.g., [50,51]). When possible, we will use historical traceroute data from Ark in order to select IP addresses within each prefix that have previously responded to traceroute. (Our measurements simply require that the traceroute can reach the given prefix not a specific host.) We will also leverage Ark's ability to execute UDP- or TCP- traceroutes, which can override filtering of ICMP enforced by some providers. We will compare these traceroute-inferred with BGP-inferred paths, and map the results of this comparison to different scenarios in Table 1. In the table, rows represent different anomalies observable in the control-plane (BGP) (Section 3.2.1), and the columns depict possible outcomes of the comparison: AS paths match, do not match, or active probing did not reach the targeted prefix. In practice, we will need to interpret Table 1 separately for each vantage point, since not all vantage points may be impacted by the interception. Corresponding results from multiple vantage points will reflect portions of the AS topology also affected by the event. Table 1 depicts the four types of interception illustrated in Figure 3.
|*Data-plane vs. Control-plane path|
|AS paths match||AS paths are different||Could not reach prefix|
||(1) multiple-origin interception||
||suspicious data plane and control plane mismatch||
||(3) interception via path poisoning||
||(4) interception via prepend manipulation||suspicious data plane and control plane mismatch||
3.2.3 Using empirical data and simulations to study the impact of interceptionsDetecting interceptions is only one piece of the puzzle in terms of understanding the role they play on the Internet. It is also important to understand their impact in terms of: (1) service impact via increased latency, (2) the magnitude of the incident in terms of number of ASes and prefixes intercepted, (3) duration of the incident and (4) social/political implications of interceptions that take traffic across national borders. We plan to augment our active measurement framework with algorithmic simulations of BGP routing policies, and qualitative analysis of the organizations involved, to better understand both technical and political effects of interceptions.
- The impact of interception on network latency. Traffic interception can result in abnormally high network delays, as traffic detours around the globe. For example, the China Telecom incident resulted in some network latencies increasing by 300ms before traffic reached its intended destination . When we detect an interception activity, we will leverage historical traceroute data gathered by CAIDA's Ark project , comparing previous traceroutes between a given source an destination with those executed during the interception event, allowing us to estimate the effect of the interception in terms of increased latency.
- Magnitude of interception in terms of ASes and prefixes. Recognizing the limitations in coverage (number and location of available vantage points) of our measurement infrastructure, we will combine both measurement data and simulation to try to more accurately estimate the number of ASes and prefixes affected by an interception. Using BGP data we will derive an initial count of how many prefixes are impacted by an interception event, and then execute active measurements from Ark nodes to these prefixes to confirm which ASes are definitely impacted. We will supplement this data with algorithmic simulations of BGP that use the best available AS-level topology annotated with relationships ( , developed at CAIDA) and efficient algorithms to compute BGP paths (designed by PI Gill ). Since ASes choose paths based on considerations other than shortest path (e.g., cost, geography), cannot use existing shortest path algorithms without modification. Instead, our algorithm performs a three-stage breadth-first search of the AS graph to compute paths chosen by each AS to reach a given destination . We will compute paths to the victim AS as well as the AS performing interception, and compare them. If an AS has a better path (according to a standard model of routing policies ) to the intercepting AS than it has to the victim, we conclude that the interception would impact this AS. This analysis will provide an upper bound on the impact of the potential interception and help fill gaps in our active measurements.
- Duration of traffic interceptions. Another important question about the impact of traffic interception is: how long did the interception last? The amount of data potentially intercepted is tied to the duration of the interception, so duration an important metric of impact in the absence of network traces from the impacted networks. When we detect an interception, we will monitor for resolution of the corresponding control-plane anomaly (Section 3.2.1) and follow up with active measurements to verify that the interception is indeed over. Once we have confirmed that the interception is no longer taking place, we can investigate the duration of interception events and perform temporal correlations to observe patterns such as whether some interception events recur frequently.
- Social/political impact of interception. When China Telecom hijacked 50,000 prefixes in 2010, some of which belonged to key US organizations, the impact was not just technical but political . Thus, we will augment our technical measurements of interception with useful meta-data for inferring social and political impact of these incidents. First, we will use data from the regional Internet registries (RIRs) (e.g., ARIN , RIPE ) to map the intercepted prefixes to the organizations that registered them, and identify potentially significant targets (e.g., U.S. Patent and Trademark Organization  and other prefixes associated with national government organizations). We will also use the RIRs to map which ASes had traffic diverted as part of the hijack to see if any of them may be of political significance. Interception that diverts traffic to a foreign country is likely of more concern than one that diverts it within a single country, so to understand where intercepted traffic flows, we will map our interception data using available IP geolocation information, both from commercial sources  and from CAIDA's recent geolocation research project .
3.3 Task 3: Collect and disseminate data and knowledgeThe proposed project is partly inspired by an ISOC roundtable  attended by the PIs and other academics, as well as network operators and policy makers. The roundtable discussions highlighted the need for high-fidelity, unified data and analysis of routing security incidents. We will include the following activities to engage these and other communities, not only to disseminate our results but also to solicit feedback as we try to address the identified identified gap.
- Workshop in Year 2. Early in Year 2 of the project, we will host a 1-2 day workshop at Stony Brook University (SBU) that will include the research team as well as network operators and policy makers (e.g., members of the IETF Secure Interdomain Routing (SIDR) working group and the FCC CSRIC IV working group on BGP Security). The workshop will leverage existing ties between the PIs and these specific groups, as well as the PIs participation in operator forums such as the North American Network Operators Group (NANOG). The workshop will raise awareness of our research and the data it will provide. We will also gather feedback on our detection criteria and progress in Year 1, to help set the course for Year 2.
- Maintaining a blog detailing incidents. The research team will maintain a blog summarizing notable events discovered using the infrastructure. The blog will present detailed analysis of incidents in a format that is understandable, even to non-technical policy makers, and link to more detailed technical reports. The blog will include not only traffic interception analysis, but analysis of other incidents detectable using our infrastructure (e.g., hijacks resulting in traffic black holes and other types of outages) to make it the go-to place for Internet resiliency reporting (similar to Renesys, but transparently sharing data, analysis methods, and software to promote reproducibility).
- Engaging the operator community. The PIs will leverage their prior success engaging the operator community (e.g., [59,60]) to share research results with them. The developed infrastructure will include an interface that vetted operators can use to monitor incidents relating to their networks, or to manually enter any information or corrections that may improve the accuracy of the reported incidents. Once this interface is implemented, the PIs will present the infrastructure at a NANOG meeting, and announce its availability on the NANOG mailing list to bootstrap participation by network operators.
- Data access for academics. The data produced by our infrastructure is useful for performing "what-if" analysis to understand the effectiveness of different routing security deployments (e.g., [14,61]). It is also useful for studies of new detection mechanisms for Internet outages, prefix hijacks, and interceptions. Finally, the data can serve as a starting point for assignments in courses on networking and network security. We will provide access to our data through the CAIDA data repository to maximize its benefit to the academic community.
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