What Is a DDoS Attack? A Short Guide
The cybercrime spectrum is very wide, and attackers have numerous tools at their disposal when planning a system attack. A dangerous tool that’s hard to protect against is a DDoS attack.
There’s no guarantee that your small business will not be affected or that you as an individual user will not be targeted. But what is a DDoS attack, and why is it so dangerous? In this article, we’ll provide you with all the necessary information about this particular threat and will offer a few tips on how to protect yourself.
The Definition of a DDoS Attack
DDoS attacks can be used for various reasons, including penetrating supposedly secure systems to make a statement or the hacker getting money to immobilize and cripple a particular website. In some cases, rogue disgruntled employees can use this attack to harm their employer. Often, the hackers just want to show off their skills or it’s part of a larger-scale attack.
DDoS stands for “Distributed Denial-of-Service,” and the name explains it well: it’s an attack that overloads the website with false traffic, so the users cannot access its services.
Such attacks are all too common these days, and even some of the most reputable companies have fallen victim to them. One DDoS attack took place in 2020, and it targeted Amazon Web Services. This shows that even high-profile companies with high-end security systems are not immune.
The number of attacks increased after the COVID-19 pandemic and the rise of remote work and Internet of Things devices.
How Does a DDoS Work?
DDoS attacks work by taking control of a network of machines that function as a botnet. The primary purpose of the botnet is to overload the target sites with traffic, so they cannot function properly.
These machines can be smartphones, Internet of Things devices, PCs, laptops, or servers. They are controlled remotely, and there can be thousands of them. The more devices get involved, the stronger the attack will be. Cybercriminals must first compromise the devices they will use for the DDoS attack.
One high-profile attack was performed in 2016, taking down popular websites such as The Guardian, Netflix, and Twitter, using malware and a botnet of IoT devices. These companies have a set of cybersecurity measures in place, so there’s no doubt that these distributed denial-of-service attacks were planned and carried out by experienced professionals.
So, let’s see how the attack is carried out. The first step is infecting the devices with malware. Once the attackers do this, the botnet is created, and each bot device gets instructions. They then send requests to the server’s address, which is how the attack overflows the targeted website or server.
How To Recognize a DDoS Attack
A DDoS attack must be identified immediately so that the damage can be controlled. Protecting your website from DDoS starts by knowing how to recognize it. Unlike ransomware, where the attacker informs the victim that they’ve been hacked the moment the system is successfully penetrated, DDoS attacks can go unnoticed until it’s too late. Look for the following signs, as they could tip you off about an attack:
- Technical problems on the website,
- HTTP Error 503,
- Frequent ‘time to live’ times out,
- Slower performance,
- Traffic is higher than usual,
- Users have difficulties accessing the website,
- Problems with loading files.
DDoS attacks can cause severe financial and reputational damage and immobilize business operations for a time. However, there are ways to protect yourself and get early notifications that something fishy is going on, so you can react in time.
Types of DDoS Attacks
DDoS and DoS attacks can be divided into different types depending on the criteria we use to sort them. Three categories are most common, though, so here they are:
Application Layer Attacks include GET/POST floods, Apache attacks, OpenBSD or Windows attacks, and low-and-slow attacks. Since bot use is legitimate, these attacks seem like regular requests, but they can eventually disrupt entire networks.
Protocol attacks can be fragmented packet attacks, Smurf DDoS, Ping of Death, and SYN floods. The goal of this attack type is to consume the server's resources.
Volume-based attacks employ spoofed-packet floods, UDP floods, and ICMP floods to disrupt and saturate the server bandwidth.
DDOS Attack Examples
Now that we’ve covered the broad types let’s talk about a few of the most common and dangerous attacks. One typical DDoS attack example is a UDP Flood. The other two include Ping of Death and HTTPS Flood.
UDP Flood is a type of DDoS attack that uses User Datagram Protocols to flood the victim. This attack aims to target the remote host’s ports.
Ping of Death is an attack that works by sending malicious pings to the user’s device. The goal is to freeze or crash the system. Some of the attackers opt for this type of hacking because their identities can easily remain concealed.
If the attackers decide on a distributed denial-of-service attack, they don’t need to have exceptionally detailed information about the device they’re attacking - only its IP address.
HTTP Flood is an attack that takes advantage of HTTP GET or POST requests. They are sometimes SSL-based. (SSL is a digital certificate used for authenticating a website’s identity.) Unlike some threats on this list, HTTP floods do not employ malicious packets. This attack is effective because it makes the server use a lot of its resources for each request, which typically results in a network crash.
DDoS vs. DoS Attack
These two attacks can cause incredible damage and lead to astronomical financial losses. It is estimated that a successful DDoS attack can cost a company anywhere from $20,000 to $40,000 per hour.
A DDoS attack is a subtype of the DoS attack. The difference lies in the way the attack is performed. With a Denial of Service or DoS attack, a single internet connection is used to flood traffic, whereas the Distributed Denial of Service or DDoS attack employs thousands of remotely controlled devices for the same purpose. In other words, it’s much more deadly and trickier to guard against.
Risk Management and Damage Control
If you suspect you’re about to be exposed to a DDoS attack, there are a few things you can do to prepare and mitigate the damage.
Detecting the Attack
Early detection is paramount, as the damage can be prevented if the attack is caught in the nascent stages. With a DDoS, attacking devices cannot be stopped by legacy anti-malware tools, and it becomes almost impossible to stop the attack if it is not noticed on time.
It’s not always possible to detect the attack without the assistance of proper software, so many businesses rely on user and entity behavior analytics (UEBA) which detect any unusual system behavior. These tools rely on machine learning and are usually very successful in detecting abnormalities.
If an attack occurs, the victim needs to respond as quickly as possible. The best way is to absorb or divert the malicious traffic from the target website with the help of CDN services. You should also look into blacklisting offending IPs so that attacking computers cannot keep flooding your servers.
What is a DDoS protection option that is easy to implement but works well? Traffic filtering. It can be very helpful because it distinguishes legitimate from malicious traffic and can be done without a significant effect on the legitimate users visiting the website.
How To Protect Yourself From a DDoS or DoS Attack
You can do a few things to protect yourself from a DDoS or DoS attack. Prevention is essential because the damage can be immense even if you manage to stop an attack in its early stages.
With secured networks, you’ll guard your network against DDoS, meaning that you won’t have to go through the incredibly costly and time-consuming procedure of dealing with the attack once it happens.
There are steps you can take to prevent the attack from damaging your network, and they’re not expensive, nor do they require complex solutions. One simple one is increasing the available bandwidth.
By doing this, you’re making your hosting “DDoS resistant” and providing enough bandwidth in case there is a surge in traffic when the attack takes place. It’s not as good as an entirely blocked DDoS attack, but it’s still an essential layer of protection.
It is usually advised that you combine this tactic with several others, as increasing bandwidth itself will usually not be enough, especially against large botnet attacks.
Use a CDN Solution
A content delivery network (CDN) can provide you with multiple protection features, one of which is safeguarding from DDoS attacks.
CDN also balances website traffic, so your servers are not overwhelmed and eventually crash. Combined with IP address filtering, you can really put a damper on any hacker’s plans to flood your main website server.
Expect a DDoS Attack and Prepare for It
What is DDoS protection without preparation? By expecting an attack and preparing for it, you’ll be one step ahead if the attack takes place.
This process involves training your employees or coworkers to deal with the effects of a potential attack. You’ll have a chance to plan and organize the protection of sensitive data and find alternative ways of keeping essential services online. This way, your networks won’t collapse even if an attack does go through.
Choose a Cloud-based Solution
This way, you’ll be provided with unlimited bandwidth. If your resources are limited, you won’t have much chance of protecting yourself from a DDoS attack, and you will likely get “DDoS-ed.” A cloud-based solution can help you avoid that scenario, and, luckily, there are many excellent cloud hosting providers to choose from these days.
While DDoS attacks can be extremely dangerous and sometimes hard to guard against, there are ways to prevent them and reduce the damage they can do. This threat is not limited only to large businesses, and almost anyone can fall victim to it.
Advance planning and preparation for an attack is always a good strategy, but once the attack happens, you have to act quickly. The goal of this article was not only to help you answer the question “What is a DDoS attack?” but also to give you essential information about this threat and tips on how to fight it. Good luck!
The average DDoS takes one to four hours.
While the damage caused by a DDoS attack can be enormous, its primary purpose is not to steal information but rather to overload the website and bring down its servers.
DDoS is not a virus but a malicious attack that overloads websites with false traffic until the system can no longer operate normally.
Julia A. is a writer at SmallBizGenius.net. With experience in both finance and marketing industries, she enjoys staying up to date with the current economic affairs and writing opinion pieces on the state of small businesses in America. As an avid reader, she spends most of her time poring over history books, fantasy novels, and old classics. Tech, finance, and marketing are her passions, and she’s a frequent contributor at various small business blogs.
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