What is a DDoS attack? You’ve probably heard that phrase before, and maybe you’ve even read an article about them. But do you REALLY understand what DDoS attacks are?
Do you know why they are increasingly becoming popular for cybercriminals to commit? And maybe you guessed it, but do you know ways to protect your website from an attack?
DDOS is the acronym for Distributed Denial of Service, and it is a web attack directed at websites to stop them from functioning correctly.
The attack focuses on the website’s server or infrastructure and limited capacity. The attacker sends many requests and traffic to the webserver to exceed its capacity to handle requests. When this happens, the website stops functioning properly, and users will not be able to access the services associated with the website.
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We’ve seen several recent high-profile cases of websites being taken offline by DDoS attacks. These attacks can have an enormous impact due to their scale and complexity, which can use proxies, botnets, and sometimes even compromised IoT devices for additional bandwidth and impact.
It is not only large companies that have been affected; DDoS is becoming more popular with cybercriminals as a way to exploit smaller businesses.
One of the major and recent examples of DDoS attacks in the information technology world happened with Amazon Web Services in February 2020. This attack sent about 26 million requests per second onto the AWS servers.
Although AWS could halt and mitigate the attack before it caused any damage, it points to the fact that DDoS is real and large tech corporations are not spared from it.
Another example happened with GitHub two years before that of AWS. The GitHub incident is the biggest DDoS attack in the world, as the attackers sent 129 million requests or packets per second.
However, they mitigated the attack by using a DDoS protection service. The protection service took about 10 minutes to notify GitHub of the attack, and the operators of GitHub swiftly moved to halt the attack.
Motivation Behind DDoS Attacks
The motivation behind a DDoS attack varies. For some people, it is a way of showing disapproval or displeasure to the owners or operators of the website and its services. These disgruntled individuals or organizations could be activists protesting against the websites’ operation and associated services.
In some cases, the motivation could be financial. It is not uncommon to find competing organizations using DDoS attacks to momentarily shut down the operations of their rivals’ websites and services. Some hackers also use the attack as a coordinated strategy to extort businesses. They use the DDoS attack to disrupt the website’s operations, install ransomware or hostageware, and demand a ransom before removing these impediments.
Finally, some people send DDoS attacks for the fun of it. They just want to exploit the weakness of the website and the services connected to it, and they usually have no ulterior motives.
Regardless of the motivation, it is evident that DDoS is a serious threat to information technology security as well as the usability and operability of web services. Given the number of remote work systems and interconnectivity in today’s world, businesses need to protect their cybersecurity and establish DDoS prevention systems.
How Does DDoS Attack Work
DDoS targets network resources. These network resources, such as web servers, have a limited capacity for answering and processing web requests. The channel that connects these servers to the internet also has limited bandwidth or capacity. Therefore, the attack aims to ensure that the requests sent are too much for the channel and the server to handle.
When the web requests overwhelm the server, there is a reduction in the speed with which the server responds to the requests. The server could also start ignoring all of the requests, including the legitimate requests sent by actual users of the server. This means that the real website or web service users will find it hard to access the website and its services.
Note that a DDoS attack is a form of DOS, which stands for denial of service attack. DDoS is a more elaborate form of DOS, as DOS involves the use of a single internet connection to send fake requests. On the other hand, DDoS uses thousands or millions of internet connections to send fake requests, which makes it harder to control or stop DDoS.
A DDoS attack needs botnets to work. We have mentioned that DDoS uses millions or thousands of internet connections to send fake requests and bring web resources down. However, it is hard for a single individual to have a million or thousand devices through which it sends its requests.
Instead, the attacker hacks into many computers and devices and creates what is known as a zombie network. This zombie network allows the attacker to send millions of requests to the website resource. The computers and devices within this zombie network are known as the botnets.
Identifying a DDoS Attack
One of the things that makes a DDoS attack dangerous is that it can be hard to notice. Signs of a DDoS attack are common and occur almost daily with gadgets and internet connections. Some signs include a slow download or upload speed, excessive spam, and an inability to view a webpage.
Other signs of a DDoS attack include strange content or media appearing on your website and a drop in the connection to your site. You would agree that you encounter all these signs on the internet almost every day. However, one of the telling signs is if any of these signs linger for far too long. A DDoS attack can last hours, days, weeks, or even months, depending on the type of attack.
Types of DDoS Attack
Remember that we mentioned that DDoS attacks target certain web resources? They could target many web resources apart from the server. The web resource or infrastructure targeted determines the type of DDoS attack you experience.
According to the Open System Interconnection model defined by the International Organization for Standardization, seven network layers are involved in connecting to the internet. A DDoS attack can target and affect any of these seven layers.
Volumetric DDoS Attack
This DDoS attack targets the available bandwidth between the internet and the website to be attacked. The most common example of a volumetric DDoS attack is DNS amplification. The DNS, Domain name system, is responsible for turning a website domain name into an IP address that allows the website to load web pages.
In the DNS amplification, the attacker creates a spoof of the target’s address and sends a DNS name lookup request to the open DNS server using the spoofed address.
Now, when the server responds to the request, its response is sent to the original address and not the spoof. Thus, with multiple devices, the target website receives an amplified response from the server.
Protocol attacks exploit the weaknesses in layer 3 and layer 4 of the OSI models. With these models incapacitated, the website becomes inaccessible. This type of DDoS attack takes out web infrastructure such as firewalls and servers.
An example of a protocol attack is the SYN Flood. In this example, the target website sends many TCP handshake requests using a fake IP address. The website tries to respond to all of these handshake requests.
However, the requests keep coming, and in the end, the website gets overwhelmed and can no longer keep up with the handshake requests. As a result, it becomes inaccessible.
Application Layer Attacks
This attack is also known as the Layer 7 attack, referring to the seventh layer of the OSI model earlier discussed. This layer is the part of the website where web pages are loaded as a response to HTTP requests.
An example of an application layer attack is the HTTP Flood. To understand how the HTTP Flood works, imagine a web page refreshed on millions of computers simultaneously. This results in excessive HTTP requests to the website, which will overwhelm the website and render it unresponsive.
7 Ways to Protect Your Website From DDoS Attacks
The following are steps and tips for preventing a DDoS attack from taking your website out.
1. Have a Response Plan in Place
In the two examples of the recent DDoS attacks provided in this article, we see that Github and AWS were able to mitigate and halt the progress of the DDoS attack because they had a response plan in place. This shows the importance of having a DDoS response plan in place.
If you offer products or services online or your core business model depends on internet infrastructure to run, you need to have cybersecurity that protects your website against DDoS attacks.
More importantly, you should develop a response plan that you will communicate to your team members or other employees in the company.
This response plan will state the following;
- The exact actions to take in the event of a DDoS
- How to maintain business transactions and operations during the attack
- The personnel and staff that you need to call during the attack
- The responsibilities of everybody in the cybersecurity team
- The list of critical systems that must be protected
- Escalation protocols
- The list of tools needed
To optimize the communication amongst your team, you should use communication software.
2. Provide an Effective System of Network Security
The efficacy of your network security system determines your ability to stop a DDoS attack when it occurs. This is why you must have an effective system in place. The system will not only help you fight the threat, but it will also alert you immediately after a DDoS attack starts.
This alert is the most important aspect of fighting and stopping a DDoS attack. The DDoS attack is not an instant threat. It is continuous. Thus, the earlier you notice the attack, the easier it is to fight it.
The following are some of the important aspects of an effective network security system that you need;
- Antivirus and antimalware that detects and removes malware and virus
- Anti-spoofing tools that check if the traffic coming to the website is coming from a similar address to the original web address
- Intrusion detection systems and firewalls that serve as a barrier between networks
- Network segmentation tools that help to separate systems into subnets
- Web security tools with the ability to detect and block abnormal web traffic and remove web-based threats
- Endpoint security ensures that malicious activities do not find their way into the network through devices such as laptops, phones, and desktop computers
3. Increase Your Bandwidth
Since DDoS attacks seek to cripple the limited capacity of your web infrastructure, one of the best ways of preventing the attack is by increasing the bandwidth of the web resources. This way, your website can deal with traffic spikes even if the attack comes.
However, you should keep in mind that increasing your web resources’ bandwidth does not mean the attack will not happen. It only makes it difficult for the attacker, as they have to send more requests to cripple the web servers.
4. Use CDN Solutions
CDN, which stands for Content Delivery Network, is a network of servers responsible for distributing web content from the original server to different parts of the world.
Some companies provide the service, and leveraging this service can help you protect your website from DDoS attacks. You also get SSL certificates and DDoS protection services.
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5. Watch out for the Signs
We have mentioned that DDoS attacks are not instant. Therefore, you must spot the signs and mitigate the attack as early as possible. The popular signs of a DDoS attack include slow performance, web crashes, poor connection, a spike in traffic, and unusual traffic stemming from an individual or a group of IP addresses.
You mustn’t let any of these signs go uninvestigated. This is because even if the attack does not last long, they are used as a test or diversion for a bigger cybersecurity threat.
6. Use Cloud-Based Solutions
It is not enough that you have on-site hardware that can deal with the DDoS attack. Having cloud-based solutions for mitigating the attack is also important as the cloud-based solutions have an extensive limit concerning their capacity.
With their capacity, cloud-based solutions can easily handle DDoS attacks, even if they are volumetric attacks.
7. Use Protective Solutions for your Network Hardware
Simple network hardware configurations and settings can protect them against DDoS attacks and other cyberattacks.
For instance, configuring your router or firewall to block out DNS responses from outside your network or drop incoming ICMP packets from outside your network can help prevent volumetric DDoS attacks and the type that uses DNS.
You cannot afford to be lax or nonchalant about cybersecurity if you have your business hosted on the internet or you have employees working from different parts of the world. DDoS attacks are one of the popular and potent cyberattacks that any business can face. The tips mentioned above will help you prepare and prevent its occurrence.