UMD Team Wins Internet Defense Prize

Oct 11, 2021

A University of Maryland-led team of researchers recently won an Internet Defense Prize for a paper that uncovered a unique form of distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack that can be used for internet censorship.

The prize—funded by Facebook in partnership with the USENIX Association—celebrates security research contributions to the protection and defense of the internet.

The researchers received the third-place prize—which amounts to $40K—for their work discussed in “Weaponizing Middleboxes for TCP Reflected Amplification.” The paper details their discovery that firewalls and other kinds of network-based “middleboxes”—the foundation of internet security—can be weaponized by attackers to launch unprecedentedly large DDoS attacks.

The award-winning team is comprised of Kevin Bock, lead author and a fourth-year doctoral student in computer science; Kyle Hurley, a senior majoring in computer science; Yair Fax, who received a bachelor’s degree in computer science last year; Abdulrahman Alaraj, a computer science doctoral student at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder); Eric Wustrow, an assistant professor of computer engineering at CU Boulder; and Dave Levin, an assistant professor of computer science and member of the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies

The researchers used Geneva, an artificial intelligence tool they created, to discover new TCP-based amplification attacks that trick middleboxes into sending large amounts of traffic to unsuspecting victims.

Their results show that middleboxes introduce an unexpected, as-yet untapped threat that attackers could leverage to launch these powerful amplification attacks.

The same paper won a Distinguished Paper Award at the 30th USENIX Security Symposium, which was held August 11–13.