How NETSCOUT built a global DDoS awareness platform with Amazon OpenSearch Service

This post was co-written with Hardik Modi, AVP, Threat and Migitation Products at NETSCOUT.

NETSCOUT Omnis Threat Horizon is a global cybersecurity awareness platform providing users with highly contextualized visibility into “over the horizon” threat activity on the global DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) landscape—threats that could be impacting their industry, their customers, or their suppliers. It allows visitors to create custom profiles and understand DDoS activity that is being observed in near-real time through NETSCOUT’s ATLAS visibility platform. Users can create free accounts to create customized profiles that lead to a map-based visualization (as in the following screenshot) as well as tailored summary reporting. DDoS attacks can be impactful to services delivered over the internet. Visibility of this nature is key to anyone who wishes to understand what is happening on the threat landscape. Omnis Threat Horizon has been generally available since August 2019.

To provide continuous visibility at a low per-user cost (to enable a free service), the NETSCOUT development team chose a series of AWS technologies to power the collection, storage, analysis, warehousing, user authentication, and delivery of the application. In particular, they chose Amazon OpenSearch Service as the core analytics engine. They store all processed attack records in OpenSearch Service.

This post discusses the challenges and design patterns NETSCOUT used on its path to representing the details of roughly 10 million annual DDoS attacks in near-real time.

Background

NETSCOUT, through its Arbor product line, is a long-time provider of solutions for network visibility and DDoS mitigation for service providers and enterprises. Since 2007, NETSCOUT has operated a program called ATLAS, in which customers can opt to share anonymized data about the DDoS attacks they are observing on their network. As this program has matured, NETSCOUT has comprehensive visibility into the DDoS attack landscape—both the number and nature of attacks. This visibility informs and improves their products, allowing them to share analysis findings in the form of papers, blog posts, and a biannual threat report. Since NETSCOUT started collecting and analyzing data in the current form in September 2012, they have observed 96 million attacks, allowing them to perform considerable analysis of trends across regions and verticals, as well as understand the vectors used and sizes of attacks.

Omnis Threat Horizon is a solution to display this information to a broader audience—essentially anyone interested in the threat landscape, and specifically the DDoS attack trends at any given time. In addition to providing real-time maps, the solution allows the user to go back in time to observe visually or in summary form what might have been happening at a given time.

They wanted to make sure that the visual elements and application was responsive globally, both in terms of representing real-time data as well as showing historical information. Furthermore, they wanted to keep the incremental cost per user as low as possible, in order to be able to provide this service for free globally.

Solution overview

The following diagram illustrates the solution architecture.

One of the objectives behind the chosen solution was to utilize native AWS services in every instance possible. Furthermore, they chose to break component functionality into their own microservices, and make consistent use of this through the solution.

Individual monitoring sensors deliver data to Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) on an hourly basis. As new entries are received, Amazon Simple Notification Service (Amazon SNS) notifications are delivered, resulting in processing of the data. Successive microservices are responsible for:

Parsing
Running algorithms to identify and separate spurious entries
Deduplication
Scoring
Confidence

After this processing, each attack is represented as a separate document in the OpenSearch Service domain. As of writing this post, NETSCOUT has approximately 96 million attacks in the cluster, all of which can be represented in some form in the maps and reports in Omnis Threat Horizon.

The data is organized in hourly bin files, and served to the application via Amazon CloudFront.

On previous projects, NETSCOUT tried Apache Cassandra, a popular NoSQL open-source database, and considered it inadequate for aggregation queries. While developing Horizon, they chose Elasticsearch to get access to more powerful aggregation query capabilities with significantly less developer time.

They started with a self-managed instance, but faced the following issues:

Considerable expenditure of person hours simply to manage the infrastructure
Each version upgrade was an involved process, requiring a lot of planning and still posing technical challenges along the way
No auto scaling and big aggregation queries could break Elasticsearch

After a few cycles of powering through this, they moved to OpenSearch Service to overcome these challenges.

Outcome

NETSCOUT saw the following benefits from this architecture:

Fast processing of attack data – The time from when attack data is received to when it is available in the data store is of the order of seconds, allowing them to provide near-real-time visibility in the solution.

Lower management overhead – The data store grows consistently, and by using a managed service, teams avoid having to perform tasks related to cluster management. This was a big pain point with previous solutions adopted involving the same technology.

Scalable architecture – It’s possible to add new capabilities into the pipeline as requirements emerge, without rearchitecting other components.

Conclusion

With OpenSearch Service, NETSCOUT has been able to build a resilient data store for the attack data they capture. As a result of architectural choices made and the underlying AWS services, they’re able to provide visibility into their data at small incremental costs, allowing them to provide a global visibility platform at no cost to the end-user.

With the most experience, the most reliable, scalable, and secure cloud, and the most comprehensive set of services and solutions, AWS is the best place to unlock value from your data and turn it into insight.

About the Authors

Hardik Modi is AVP, Threat and Migitation Products at NETSCOUT. In this role, he oversees the teams responsible for mitigation products as well as the creation of security content for NETSCOUTs products, enabling best-in-class protection for users, as well as the continuous delivery and publication of impactful research across the DDoS and Intrusion landscapes.

Sujatha Kuppuraju is a Principal Solutions Architect at Amazon Web Services (AWS). She engages with customers to create innovative solutions that address customer business problems and accelerate the adoption of AWS services.

Mike Arruda is a Senior Technical Account Manager at AWS, based in the New England area. He works with AWS Enterprise customers, supporting their success in adopting best practices and helping them achieve their desired business outcomes with AWS.