A Network Time Protocol (NTP) Amplification attack is an emerging form of Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) that relies on the use of publically accessible NTP servers to overwhelm a victim system with UDP traffic.
The NTP service supports a monitoring service that allows administrators to query the server for traffic counts of connected clients. This information is provided via the “monlist” command. The basic attack technique consists of an attacker sending a “get monlist” request to a vulnerable NTP server, with the source address spoofed to be the victim’s address.
The attack relies on the exploitation of the ‘monlist’ feature of NTP, as described in CVE-2013-5211, which is enabled by default on older NTP-capable devices. This command causes a list of the last 600 IP addresses which connected to the NTP server to be sent to the victim. Due to the spoofed source address, when the NTP server sends the response it is sent instead to the victim. Because the size of the response is typically considerably larger than the request, the attacker is able to amplify the volume of traffic directed at the victim. Additionally, because the responses are legitimate data coming from valid servers, it is especially difficult to block these types of attacks. The solution is to disable “monlist” within the NTP server or to upgrade to the latest version of NTP (4.2.7) which disables the “monlist” functionality.
On a UNIX-platform, the command “ntpdc” will query existing NTP servers for monitoring data. If the system is vulnerable to exploitation, it will respond to the “monlist” command in interactive mode. By default, most modern UNIX and Linux distributions allow this command to be used from localhost, but not from a remote host. To test for monlist support, execute the following command at the command line:
Additionally, the “ntp-monlist” script is available for NMap, which will automatically display the results of the monlist command. If the system does not support the monitor query, and is therefore not vulnerable to this attack type, NMap will return an error type 4 (No Data Available) or no reply at all.
Recommended Course of Action
As all versions of ntpd prior to 4.2.7 are vulnerable by default, the simplest recommended course of action is to upgrade all versions of ntpd that are publically accessible to at least 4.2.7. However, in cases where it is not possible to upgrade the version of the service, it is possible to disable the monitor functionality in earlier versions of the software.
To disable “monlist” functionality on a public-facing NTP server that cannot be updated to 4.2.7, add the “noquery” directive to the “restrict default” line in the system’s ntp.conf, as shown below:
restrict default kod nomodify notrap nopeer noquery
restrict -6 default kod nomodify notrap nopeer noquery