Hacktivist campaigns surge against Western institutions in Q1

Targets included banking, airports, healthcare, and universities
Hacktivist campaigns surge against Western institutions in Q1
Q1 2023 sees increase in cyberattacks against Western targets

Cloudflare, Inc., the security, performance, and reliability company helping to build a better Internet, has announced its 2023 Q1 DDoS report. This report includes insights and trends about the DDoS threat landscape — as observed across the global Cloudflare network. 

Threat actors kicked off 2023 with a bang. The start of the year was characterized by a series of hacktivist campaigns against Western targets including banking, airports, healthcare, and universities — mainly by the pro-Russian Telegram-organized groups Killnet and more recently by AnonymousSudan.

While Killnet-led and AnonymousSudan-led cyberattacks stole the spotlight, there hasn’t been any novel or exceedingly large attacks by them. Unprotected Internet properties can still be, and have been, taken down by Killnet-led or AnonymousSudan-led cyber campaigns. Organizations should take proactive defensive measures to reduce the risks.

Read more: Cloudflare says it thwarted record-breaking HTTPS DDoS flood

Hyper-volumetric attacks


There has been, however, an increase of hyper-volumetric DDoS attacks launched by other threat actors — with the largest one peaking above 71 million requests per second (rps) — exceeding Google’s previous world record of 46M rps by 55%.

High-performance botnets


Hyper-volumetric attacks leverage a new generation of botnets that are comprised of Virtual Private Servers (VPS) instead of Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

Historically, large botnets relied on exploitable IoT devices such as smart security cameras to orchestrate their attacks. Despite the limited throughput of each IoT device, together — usually numbering in the hundreds of thousands or millions — they generated enough traffic to disrupt their targets.

The new generation of botnets uses a fraction of the amount of devices, but each device is substantially stronger. Cloud computing providers offer virtual private servers to allow startups and businesses to create performant applications. The downside is that it also allows attackers to create high-performance botnets that can be as much as 5,000x stronger. Attackers gain access to virtual private servers by compromising unpatched servers and hacking into management consoles using leaked API credentials.

Cloudflare has been working with key cloud computing providers to crack down on these VPS-based botnets. Substantial portions of such botnets have been disabled thanks to the cloud computing providers’ rapid response and diligence. Since then, Cloudflare has yet to see additional hyper-volumetric attacks — a testament to the fruitful collaboration. 

Highlights of the DDoS Report


  • In Q1, 16% of surveyed customers reported a Ransom DDoS attack — remains steady compared to the previous quarter but represents a 60% increase YoY.
  • Non-profit organizations and Broadcast Media were two of the most targeted industries. Finland was the largest source of HTTP DDoS attacks in terms of percentage of attack traffic, and the main target of network-layer DDoS attacks. Israel was the topmost attacked country worldwide by HTTP DDoS attacks.
  • Large-scale volumetric DDoS attacks — attacks above 100 Gbps — increased by 6% QoQ. DNS-based attacks became the most popular vector. Similarly, Cloudflare observed surges in SPSS-based DDoS attacks, DNS amplification attacks, and GRE-based DDoS attacks.

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