Choreographer: Orchestrating a Moving Target Defense Using DNS and NAT

Attackers regularly compromise the public-facing servers that organizations use to fulfill their missions. We regularly change the locations of these servers, disorienting attackers, while still providing reliable connectivity for legitimate users.

Customer Need

Most organizations face on-going and damaging attacks on their public-facing servers. At the same time, such servers are critical to the mission objectives of these organizations. However, each server can became an attack vector and a foothold for adversaries into an organization's network. The cost of a security failure can be high. In 2011, the average cost of a data breach was estimated at $5.5 million. Other costs may be less quantifiable, including damage to the customer's reputation or even the customer's ability to complete its mission.

Our Approach

Choreographer System

We frequently change the public addresses of protected servers, which 1) makes it challenging for attackers to guess the server's address and 2) allows us to seamlessly redirect an attacker to monitoring infrastructure (called a "Honey Pot").

When contacted by a legitimate user, the DNS server provides the correct address for the server and creates a network mapping to maintain the link.

This approach allows the DNS server to grant or deny access to users and seamlessly transition malicious users to honey pots upon detection. Organizations can use prior history to make decisions, protecting themselves based on past actions by a network.


  1. Our approach reduces attacker scanning effectiveness from around 100% to less than 1% for most network deployments.
  2. We can limit access to authorized requestors by using the destination address as an access key.
  3. We can study the diverted clients, 95% of which are likely to be malicious users.
  4. We enable policy decisions based on source network, incentivizing ISPs to remove malicious clients from their networks.
  5. Deployment is straightforward and requires only minor changes in infrastructure.

Competitive Advantage

  1. While traditional firewalls can thwart access, they are based on signatures and a single misconfiguration allows arbitrary attackers into the network.
  2. Dynamic and adaptive network approaches do not support migrating on-going connections, while ours can.
  3. Our approach makes explicit decision before the connection starts and during the connection, if needed.
  4. Unlike intrusion detection systems that rely on anomaly detects or attack signatures, our approach can detect and thwart zero-day attacks.


The Choreographer project has been explored by the scientific community, resulting in two peer reviewed publications. The first, published in the ACM SIGCOMM Computer and Communication Review [ PDF ], describes the idea of a DNS capabilities system. The second, published in the ACM/IEEE Transactions on Internet Technology [ PDF ], describes how DNS resolvers can be profiled to determine whether access should be granted.