Definitions

broadcast storm

Broadcast radiation

Broadcast radiation is the accumulation of broadcast and multicast traffic on a computer network. Extreme amounts of broadcast traffic constitute a broadcast storm. A broadcast storm can consume sufficient network resources so as to render the network unable to transport normal traffic.

Causes

Most commonly the cause is a redundant switched topology where a loop exists in the Ethernet wiring topology (i.e. two or more links exist between switches). As broadcasts and multicasts are forwarded by switches out every port, the two switches will broadcast each other's broadcasts - creating a switching loop.

In some cases, a broadcast storm can be instigated for the purpose of a denial of service (DOS) using one of the packet amplification attacks, such as the smurf attack or fraggle attack, where smurf sends a large amount of ICMP Echo Requests (ping) traffic to a broadcast address, with each ICMP Echo packet containing the spoof source address of the victim host.

When the spoofed packet arrives at the destination network, all hosts on the network reply to the spoofed address. The initial Echo Request is multiplied by the number of hosts on the network. This generates a storm of replies to the victim host tying up network bandwidth, using up CPU resources or possibly crashing the victim.

In wireless networks a disassociation packet spoofed with the source to that of the wireless access point and sent to the broadcast address can generate a disassociation broadcast DOS attack.

Prevention

Misinterpretations

  1. A common misinterpretation is that routing loops have anything to do with broadcast storms. Working at Layer 3, routers (unlike Layer 2 equipment) do not forward MAC-level broadcast traffic.
  2. Another misinterpretation is that routers cannot forward broadcasts under special circumstances. Some routable protocols support the use of internetwork-level broadcasts. If the router is configured to forward them, the broadcast domain segmentation is compromised.
  3. Most commonly it is believed that only routers can impact the broadcast domain or filter broadcasts. As we have seen, switches can blur the layer line (e.g. with VLANs) and can do filtering (they still need a router for forwarding however).
  4. A misinterpretation is that a broadcast can be responded to with a broadcast. This is not true. A broadcast can, however, be issued to gather information needed to respond to an initially received broadcast. In a redundant looped topology this second broadcast can reach the interface that sent the initial broadcast.

MANET broadcast storms

In a mobile ad-hoc network (MANET), route request (RREQ) packets are usually broadcast to discover new routes. These RREQ packets may cause broadcast storms and compete over the channel with data packets. One approach to alleviate the broadcast storm problem is to inhibit some hosts from rebroadcasting to reduce the redundancy, and thus contention and collision.

References

  1. Appendix E: Broadcasts in Switched LAN Internetworks
  2. Defense Against the DoS/DDoS Attacks on Cisco Routers
  3. Disassociation Broadcast Attack Using ESSID Jack
  4. The Broadcast Storm Problem in a Mobile Ad Hoc Network

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