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The DDoS Attack: House Baratheon of Cybersecurity

Posted on May 3rd, 2019

House Baratheon - divided, powerful, and subversive - began as one of the founding houses of Westeros yet ended with itself splintered and nearly extinct. Baratheon of Storm’s End, headed by Robert Baratheon, also encompassed the cadet houses Baratheon of King’s Landing and Baratheon of Dragonstone. The three brothers Robert, Stannis, and Renly ruled in parallel, ultimately facing untimely deaths, thus leaving Robert’s illegitimate son Gendry as the last of the Baratheons. In much the same way, Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks divide and conquer networks, software, and systems.

DDoS attack: The Robert Baratheon

In a DDoS attack, cybercriminals attempt to overwhelm a server by sending multiple requests for service. A type of brute-force attack, the DDoS attack relies on an army of “bot” computers, a series of computers infected with a virus that the malicious actor then commands to send messages to the server. As the server attempts to respond to the requests for service, it becomes overwhelmed, ultimately shutting down and crashing.

In much the same way, Robert Baratheon led Robert’s Rebellion, also considered the War of the Usurper. Robert’s Rebellion, a series of coordinated attacks, consisted of the taking of Gulltown, Battles at Summerhall, Battle of Ashford, Battle of the Bells, Battle of the Trident, Battle at the Mander, and the Sack of King’s Landing. By overwhelming the stormlands in a series of battles, Robert Baratheon was able to obtain control over key points, functionally shutting down King Aerys’s control over Westeros.

Botnets: The Renly Baratheon

Building a botnet requires the botmaster, or cybercriminal, to infect as many online devices as possible with malware. Using a trojan horse virus, the botmaster infects systems through phishing attacks or pop-up ads on websites. Since many botnet infections use only a small amount of computer memory, people may not even notice the infection and thus the infected device continues to send requests to the internet. Moreover, many of the infections can self-propagate, which means they can seek out other infected devices automatically and connect to them. Through this interconnected series of infected devices, the botmaster can continue its insidious attack.

Renly Baratheon, the youngest of the three brothers, socializes well within the King’s Landing royal court. His friendly manner makes him popular with the other members of the court, allowing him to create a social network within Robert’s small council. He solidifies his position as king after Robert’s death because he obtains the support from House Tyrell by marrying Margaery. This support gains him the army of nearly 100,000 men necessary for a march against King’s Landing. In the same way that a botnet requires an army of computers to overtake a company’s servers or networks, so does Renly attempt to overtake King’s Landing through an army of men from across the Reach and Stormlands.

Botnet command and control (C&C) protocol: The Stannis Baratheon

The botnet C&C protocol is the server that commands the network of infected computers. These centralized machines send commands and receive outputs. They can come in four different forms. A star C&C structure is a single server that sends commands to every infected computer within the botnet, yet these setups are easy to disrupt by locating and neutralizing the commanding server. The multi-server structure consists of multiple central servers, similar to a battalion of soldiers directed by a general, that makes shutting down the attack more difficult. A hierarchic structure divides botnets into separate chunks making it difficult to locate the primary attack server, similar to a king commanding multiple generals who control multiple battalions.

Anti-social Stannis Baratheon acts much like the botnet C&C. During the Battle of Blackwater, he takes command of the fleet - first to land, make it to the wall, and climb the ladder into the battlement. While his brothers tend to monitor their armies, Stannis controls the actions of those under his command. His command-by-example methodology mimics that of the botnet C&C as he takes action while also directing it through others.

Honeypots: The Gendry Baratheon

A honeypot is a system of servers that mimic a company’s servers, allowing cyber professionals to track traffic and detect potential botnets. The honeypot, a decoy network, appears as a high-value target for malicious actors. Thus, they often deploy their DDoS attacks against these networks which allows the organization to identify a potential attack before it impacts their business-critical servers so they can proactively defend against it.

As the only Baratheon remaining, Gendry often appears to be something he is not. Although a high-value target as the last true heir to the Iron Throne, Gendry finds himself captured and traded throughout Game of Thrones. However, he is currently a blacksmith, a role that acts as a cover for his true heritage, making him a decoy within the continued power struggle. He gains the Starks’ trust in this role and obtains the information that may potentially lead him to victory as the series concludes. Thus, he acts as a critical defense point as the power struggle for the Iron Throne moves into its final battle.

Just as the Baratheons can be good or bad, controlling or distributed, so can DDoS attack methodologies.

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