Flow Wars: Systemizing the Attack Surface and Defenses in Software-Defined Networks Academic Article uri icon


  • 2017 IEEE. Emerging software defined network SDN stacks have introduced an entirely new attack surface that is exploitable from a wide range of launch points. Through an analysis of the various attack strategies reported in prior work, and through our own efforts to enumerate new and variant attack strategies, we have gained two insights. First, we observe that different SDN controller implementations, developed independently by different groups, seem to manifest common sets of pitfalls and design weakness that enable the extensive set of attacks compiled in this paper. Second, through a principled exploration of the underlying design and implementation weaknesses that enables these attacks, we introduce a taxonomy to offer insight into the common pitfalls that enable SDN stacks to be broken or destabilized when fielded within hostile computing environments. This paper first captures our understanding of the SDN attack surface through a comprehensive survey of existing SDN attack studies, which we extend by enumerating 12 new vectors for SDN abuse. We then organize these vulnerabilities within the well-known confidentiality, integrity, and availability model, assess the severity of these attacks by replicating them in a physical SDN testbed, and evaluate them against three popular SDN controllers. We also evaluate the impact of these attacks against published SDN defense solutions. Finally, we abstract our findings to offer the research and development communities with a deeper understanding of the common design and implementation pitfalls that are enabling the abuse of SDN networks.

published proceedings


author list (cited authors)

  • Yoon, C., Lee, S., Kang, H., Park, T., Shin, S., Yegneswaran, V., Porras, P., & Gu, G.

citation count

  • 77

complete list of authors

  • Yoon, Changhoon||Lee, Seungsoo||Kang, Heedo||Park, Taejune||Shin, Seungwon||Yegneswaran, Vinod||Porras, Phillip||Gu, Guofei

publication date

  • December 2017