Why BGP Flowspec Is a Step Forward in DDoS Mitigation

Mike Blunt
Architect, Practice Lead

Do you recall when service providers typically had to call upon Remote Trigger Blackhole (RTBH) to mitigate DDOS attacks? With RTBH, we only had two methods, source-based and destination-based. We would basically take the hardest approach. Either drop all traffic from the source or drop all traffic to the destination. This could be both wanted and unwanted traffic.

For those unfamiliar with RTBH, when we say destination-RTBH, we have configured a specific next-hop set to Null0. When a trigger router is initiated, it injects routes to this destination, changing the next hop to the specifically configured next-hop. We can also identify this as the “drop” next-hop.

Comparable to destination-based, source-RTBH utilizes a trigger router to inject routes from the source to drop. The key factor is Unicast Reverse Path Forwarding (uRPF) which is utilized to drop the packets since we set the next-hop to Null0.

What about ACLs? These are still the most widely used mitigation tool for DDoS. Unfortunately, these provide too much overhead and maintenance. ACLs with several hundred ACEs become cumbersome and are hard to define specific lines configured.

It would be great to utilize a mechanism that allows us to be more granular. What if we could create instructions that would match a specific flow based on the following:

  • Source
  • Destination
  • Layer 4
  • Packet specific items (length, fragment, e.g)

This is what BGP Flowspec provides: a very granular approach to DDoS mitigation.

Defined in RFC 5575 and updated by the IETF, we now utilize new SAFI Definitions:

  • AFI 1 / SAFI 133 – IPv4 dissemination of Flowspec Rules
  • AFI 1 / SAFI 134 – VPNv4 dissemination of Flowspec Rules
  • AFI 2 / SAFI 133 – IPv6 dissemination of Flowspec Rules
  • AFI 2 / SAFI 134 – VPNv6 dissemination of Flowspec Rules

BGP Flowspec matches a particular flow and with this flow, we can effectively install dynamic actions that can either drop traffic, place it into a different forwarding instance for further examination, or police to a desired rate.

Here are a few of the match fields supported by BGP Flowspec:

  • Destination Address
  • Source Address
  • IP Protocol
  • Source Port
  • Destination Port
  • ICMP Code
  • TCP Flags

BGP Flowspec defines extended communities as actions to be performed on match fields such as:

  • Traffic rates (drop/police)
  • Next-Hop Redirect
  • VRF Redirect
  • DSCP Markings

Let’s take a look at an illustration of the BGP Flowspec Architecture:

Why BGP Flowspec Is a Step Forward in DDoS Mitigation


As we look at this diagram, we must first acknowledge the Flowspec Router. This is the controller that injects the BGP Flowspec NLRIs. The Flowspec router advertises these flows to the other routers in the provider network. Once received, these devices program the flows in hardware and based on the lookup, the devices can take the appropriate action. In this topology, we are going to rate-limit DDoS Traffic to 1M at the Edge.

Overall, there are many ways that BGP Flowspec can help mitigate DDoS attacks within our environments. To take a deeper look into this technology please review my references and helpful links below:

RFC 5575 – Dissemination of Flow Specification Rules

Dissemination of Flow Specification Rules for IPv6

Implementing BGP Flowspec

BGP FlowSpec Route-reflector Support


I look forward to any and all comments regarding this subject. Having performed a proof-of-concept (POC) for this technology, I welcome any design and configuration questions that you may have. We can definitely take a deeper dive into BGP-FS.

One response to “Why BGP Flowspec Is a Step Forward in DDoS Mitigation

  1. BGP FlowSpec + Arbor/Imperva + ExaBGP/NetfastMon = Full of win. We’re almost finishing our solution based on those and having a full night of sleep again is just priceless. 🙂

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Nick Kelly

Cybersecurity Engineer, Cisco

Nick has over 20 years of experience in Security Operations and Security Sales. He is an avid student of cybersecurity and regularly engages with the Infosec community at events like BSides, RVASec, Derbycon and more. The son of an FBI forensics director, Nick holds a B.S. in Criminal Justice and is one of Cisco’s Fire Jumper Elite members. When he’s not working, he writes cyberpunk and punches aliens on his Playstation.


Virgilio “BONG” dela Cruz Jr.

CCDP, CCNA V, CCNP, Cisco IPS Express Security for AM/EE
Field Solutions Architect, Tech Data

Virgilio “Bong” has sixteen years of professional experience in IT industry from academe, technical and customer support, pre-sales, post sales, project management, training and enablement. He has worked in Cisco Technical Assistance Center (TAC) as a member of the WAN and LAN Switching team. Bong now works for Tech Data as the Field Solutions Architect with a focus on Cisco Security and holds a few Cisco certifications including Fire Jumper Elite.


John Cavanaugh

CCIE #1066, CCDE #20070002, CCAr
Chief Technology Officer, Practice Lead Security Services, NetCraftsmen

John is our CTO and the practice lead for a talented team of consultants focused on designing and delivering scalable and secure infrastructure solutions to customers across multiple industry verticals and technologies. Previously he has held several positions including Executive Director/Chief Architect for Global Network Services at JPMorgan Chase. In that capacity, he led a team managing network architecture and services.  Prior to his role at JPMorgan Chase, John was a Distinguished Engineer at Cisco working across a number of verticals including Higher Education, Finance, Retail, Government, and Health Care.

He is an expert in working with groups to identify business needs, and align technology strategies to enable business strategies, building in agility and scalability to allow for future changes. John is experienced in the architecture and design of highly available, secure, network infrastructure and data centers, and has worked on projects worldwide. He has worked in both the business and regulatory environments for the design and deployment of complex IT infrastructures.