A vulnerable Google Maps plug-in for Joomla allowed attackers to spoof the source of DDoS attacks.
A vulnerable Google Maps plug-in for Joomla allowed attackers to spoof the source of DDoS attacks.

Researchers have uncovered a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack campaign that takes advantage of Joomla servers with a vulnerable Google Maps plug-in installed.

Akamai's Prolexic Security Engineering & Research Team (PLXsert) worked with PhishLabs' Research, Analysis, and Intelligence Division (R.A.I.D) to analyze malicious traffic coming from multiple Joomla websites, a threat advisory (PDF) issued Wednesday said.

Through analysis, the teams found that attackers were able to use servers as DDoS zombies due to a vulnerability in a Google Maps plug-in that allows the plug-in to act as a proxy, masking the origin of DDoS attacks.

“Attackers spoof the source of the request, causing the results to be sent from the proxy to someone else – their denial of service target,” a release from Akamai explained. This year, the company has observed eight Joomla-based DDoS attacks against its customer base, six of which were targeted at the education sector.

PLXsert said that the DDoS attacks contained traffic signatures that matched sites known for providing DDoS-for-hire services, and that miscreants used attack tools, such as DAVOSET and UFONet, that have also been increasingly adapted by the DDoS-for-hire market.

Researchers have observed the Joomla-based DDoS attacks since September, but believe the for-hire attacks are ongoing.

In a Thursday interview with SCMagazine.com, Rod Soto, principal security researcher at PLXsert, said that reflection-based DDoS attacks, like those seen in this campaign, have become popular as they allow attackers to use the “path of least resistance.”

In the last quarter of 2014, Akamai found that 39 percent of all DDoS traffic used reflection techniques, which amplified attacks while hiding attackers' identities.

“For reflection attacks, it does not require the attacker to actually compromise the botnet [or abused hosts],” Soto said. “Most of them don't even realize they are being used as reflectors.”

In addition to ensuring that plug-ins for content management systems (CMS), like Joomla or WordPress, are properly patched, Akamai provided other DDoS migration steps, such as blocking HTTP GET/1.0 request traffic if support for legacy clients isn't needed, and blocking HTTP requests with a PHP-based user-agent string, if they are not needed, the threat advisory said.

The advisory also included three Snort rules, which match the DDoS attack variations Akamai detected in the campaign.