Over the last few years, there’s been a surge of Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. As coronavirus emerged and shifted everyone’s focus to the Internet, hackers took this opportunity to strike en masse. DDoS attacks have become not only more frequent but also much more tenacious and intelligent. What’s more, any device can unwillingly participate in an attack without the user even realizing it.
That being said, learning about DDoS attacks and the workings behind them could bring about more caution among Internet users, especially business owners who rely on it for profit. So, here’s a brief rundown of the most important information regarding DDoS attacks.
A DDoS attack typically involves a hacker taking control of a huge network of devices (called a botnet), using it to flood a web server with traffic. Naturally, as the server becomes overwhelmed with requests, it starts to malfunction. Although the disruption alone costs companies a lot of money, a DDoS attack is often accompanied by other attack strategies such as ransomware and information theft.
For instance, one of the most devastating DDoS attacks ever happened to Dyn, a DNS provider, back in 2016. Thousands of websites were down that day, including Twitter, Netflix, and Reddit. In another shocking instance, AWS experienced a DDoS attack in 2020, which had, at one point, reached the strength of 2.3 terabits per second (Tbps).
Reasons behind DDoS attacks can be various, and unless they’re adequately protected, nobody is completely safe. Besides that, they’re fairly easy to execute, and there are many different ways they can be carried out. As technology advances, so do the DDoS attack strategies. Today, hackers use AI and machine learning to track down the most vulnerable systems and do even more damage than ever before.
There are two main kinds of DDoS attacks — bombardment and technological infection.
This type of DDoS attack, also called Layer 3 attack, involves a huge network of devices that are all simultaneously used to jam a server, bombarding it with traffic. Two types of such attacks exist — burst and long term. While long term attacks can last for hours or days, burst attacks can be far more damaging. Thanks to rapidly advancing technology and more powerful devices, a major DDoS attack can now be executed in a matter of seconds.
Layer 7 attack or technological infection revolves around the manipulation of applications and unsuspecting IoT-connected devices, which then become attack vectors and bring traffic to a certain server.
The first vulnerability that hackers tend to exploit is monocultures, i.e., identical servers and systems. The reason why these exist in the first place is our natural tendency toward automatization. Also, once they’ve created a server, most people will want to replicate it over and over again, producing a network of identical server instances that can be taken down with a single piece of malware.
Secondly, many companies disregard the importance of security when it comes to their servers or software. They scrimp on the development and maintenance, rush it, or neglect it altogether for years on end, unknowingly building up a technical debt that could hurt them if they ever experienced a cyberattack.
Similarly, if companies don’t invest in proper maintenance, they’re more likely to end up with overly complex systems that are nearly impossible to keep track of. Obviously, that poses a huge risk of oversight, and eventually, a DDoS attack.
So far, ISPs, cloud service providers, government, and health care sectors have been the most commonly targeted ones.
Of course, DDoS attacks come without warning. It usually starts with employees and users complaining about the website being down or lagging. However, it takes a while to realize what is going on. Most people usually don’t even notice that their website is under attack until hours later.
Aside from connectivity issues, there are a few other signs of a DDoS attack:
- Many requests are coming from a certain IP address for a short period of time
- 503 service unavailable error
- Log analysis shows odd traffic activity — huge spikes and changes
- Time to live (TTL) times out on a ping request
Failure to detect a DDoS attack in time could have numerous consequences. Aside from being inactive and losing precious time and money for hours, a company could also lose the trust of their customers in case of an attack.
Unfortunately, there’s no one major solution that you can put all your trust in. Instead, you should think about implementing a multi-layered strategy. That way, you’ll have a few backup plans that you can lean on in case something goes wrong.
For instance, you could increase your bandwidth, making it harder for hackers to overwhelm your server with traffic. Besides that, setting up multiple servers might also be a good idea. So, if one server is under attack, you can always rely on the other ones. In addition, make sure you acquire the latest versions of firewall, anti-malware, and antivirus software and programs.
However, even with all that protection, a DDoS attack could still be imminent. In that case, your best bet is to act quickly, in an organized manner. That’s why you should take some time to come up with a detailed emergency response plan for you and your team to follow in order to mitigate the attack and the damage as much as possible.
In this day and age, being unprepared for a DDoS attack could end up costing affected companies millions, not to mention the damage that their reputation would suffer. If you want to avert such a disaster, make sure you’ve taken all the necessary precautions to keep your business and data safe. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
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