PROVIDE: hiding from automated network scans with proofs of identity
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Citation (published version)William Koch, Azer Bestavros. 2016. "PROVIDE: hiding from automated network scans with proofs of identity." Proceedings of 2016 fourth IEEE workshop on hot topics in web systems and technologies (HOTWEB). 4th IEEE workshop on hot topics in web systems and technologies (HotWeb). Washington, DC, 2016-10-24 - 2016-10-25
Network scanners are a valuable tool for researchers and administrators, however they are also used by malicious actors to identify vulnerable hosts on a network. Upon the disclosure of a security vulnerability, scans are launched within hours. These opportunistic attackers enumerate blocks of IP addresses in hope of discovering an exploitable host. Fortunately, defensive measures such as port knocking protocols (PKPs) allow a service to remain stealth to unauthorized IP addresses. The service is revealed only when a client includes a special authentication token (AT) in the IP/TCP header. However this AT is generated from a secret shared between the clients/servers and distributed manually to each endpoint. As a result, these defense measures have failed to be widely adopted by other protocols such as HTTP/S due to challenges in distributing the shared secrets. In this paper we propose a scalable solution to this problem for services accessed by domain name. We make the following observation: automated network scanners access servers by IP address, while legitimate clients access the server by name. Therefore a service should only reveal itself to clients who know its name. Based on this principal, we have created a proof of the verifier's identity (a.k.a. PROVIDE) protocol that allows a prover (legitimate user) to convince a verifier (service) that it is knowledgeable of the verifier's identity. We present a PROVIDE implementation using a PKP and DNS (PKP+DNS) that uses DNS TXT records to distribute identification tokens (IDTs) while DNS PTR records for the service's domain name are prohibited to prevent reverse DNS lookups. Clients are modified to make an additional DNS TXT query to obtain the IDT which is used by the PKP to generate an AT. The inclusion of an AT in the packet header, generated from the DNS TXT query, is proof the client knows the service's identity. We analyze the effectiveness of this mechanism with respect to brute force attempts for various strength ATs and discuss practical considerations.