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A smurf attack is a form of distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack that occurs at the network layer. Smurfing attacks are named after the malware DDoS.Smurf, which enables hackers to execute them. More widely, the attacks are named after the cartoon characters The Smurfs because of their ability to take down larger enemies by working together.

DDoS smurf attacks are similar in style to ping floods, which are a form of denial-of-service (DoS) attack. A hacker overloads computers with Internet Control Message Protocol (ICMP) echo requests, also known as pings. The ICMP determines whether data reaches the intended destination at the right time and monitors how well a network transmits data. A smurf attack also sends ICMP pings but is potentially more dangerous because it can exploit vulnerabilities in the Internet Protocol (IP) and the ICMP.

What Is the History of Smurf Attacks?

A smurf attack was originally a code written by well-known hacker Dan Moschuk, also known as TFreak. One of the first attacks to use this approach took place in 1998 and initially targeted the University of Minnesota. The attack caused a cyber traffic jam that also affected the Minnesota Regional Network, a statewide internet service provider (ISP). It resulted in computers across the state shutting down, slowed down networks, and contributed to data loss.

How Does a Smurf Attack Work?

An ICMP for smurf attack is a form of DDoS attack that overloads network resources by broadcasting ICMP echo requests to devices across the network. Devices that receive the request respond with echo replies, which creates a botnet situation that generates a high ICMP traffic rate. 

As a result, the server is flooded with data requests and ICMP packets, which overwhelm the computer network and make it inoperable. This can be particularly problematic for distributed computing systems, which allow devices to act as computing environments and enable users to access resources remotely.

A smurf attack works through the following three-step process:

  1. The DDoS.Smurf malware creates a network data packet that attaches to a false IP address. This is known as spoofing.
  2. The packet contains an ICMP ping message, which commands network nodes to send a reply.
  3. This process, known as ICMP echoes, creates an infinite loop that overwhelms a network with constant requests.

What Are the Types of Smurf Attacks?

What does smurfing mean? The answer can depend on the types of DDoS attacks that occur, which typically take the form of a basic or advanced smurf attack.

Basic Smurf Attack

A basic smurf attack occurs when the attacker floods the target network with infinite ICMP request packets. Packets include a source address set to the network’s broadcast address, which prompts every device on the network that receives the request to issue a response. This causes a massive amount of traffic, which will eventually take the system down.

Advanced Smurf Attack

An advanced smurf attack starts as a basic attack. However, the echo requests are capable of configuring sources so they can respond to additional third-party victims. This enables attackers to target multiple victims simultaneously, which means they can slow down more extensive networks and target bigger groups of victims and larger sections of the web.

Smurf Attack Transmssion and Effects

The smurf attack Trojan horse or malware can be inadvertently transmitted by downloading software or applications from unverified websites or via infected or spoofed email links. Smurf attacks can also be bundled in rootkits, which enable hackers to create backdoors that help them easily gain unauthorized access to data and systems. 

The smurf program will typically remain hidden on the computer until activated by the attacker, enabling them to cripple networks and servers for days. Furthermore, a DoS smurf attack can often be the first step toward a more significant cyberattack, such as data theft.

How Fortinet Can Help

Smurf attacks can be avoided by turning off IP broadcast addressing on all network routers. Defending against smurf attacks requires a threat prevention strategy that enables organizations to monitor network traffic, detect anomalous, suspicious, or malicious behavior, block malware, and shut down attacks before they begin.

The Fortinet FortiDDoS solution helps organizations keep their networks secure against smurf attacks and the misuse of ICMP. FortiDDoS is a dynamic, multi-layered solution that examines device behavior and flags any unusual activity to prevent potential attacks before they begin. It protects businesses from known and zero-day threats, is easy to deploy and manage, and provides comprehensive analysis and reporting. It can examine hundreds of thousands of data aspects simultaneously, which ensures a comprehensive defense against DDoS attacks.