What Is a DDoS Attack and How To Protect Yourself From It

Learn To Fight the Most Frequent Internet Threat

Bojan Jovanovic Image

September 26,2022

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Ever since the internet became widely available, various bad actors have begun finding ways to make our online lives difficult. One tool in their arsenal is Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks.  But, what is a DDoS attack? As the name implies, it is an attempt to disable a target computer or website by overwhelming it with traffic from multiple sources. 

While such attacks are not new, their popularity is on the rise for several reasons, including the availability of easy-to-use online tools that allow anyone with basic computer skills to launch them. In this post, we will take a closer look at what DDoS attacks are, how they work, and the steps you can take to protect your business from this growing threat.

DDoS Attack Explained

A DDoS attack is an attempt to take down or, in other ways, disrupt an online service, a website, or a network resource through a massive influx of traffic. The name “Distributed Denial of Service” refers to the fact that the traffic is coming from multiple, distributed sources; we are often talking about thousands of infected computers (called botnets) that have been taken over by attackers.

DDoS attacks are often confused with other types of denial of service (DoS) attacks, but there is a crucial distinction between them. A DoS attack originates from a single source, whereas a DDoS attack comes from multiple. That means that a DDoS attack is much more difficult to stop because blocking one source will not prevent the attack.

Who is Behind DDoS Attacks?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as the motivations for launching a DDoS cyberattack can vary depending on the attacker. In some cases, attackers may be motivated by political or ideological reasons, while in others, they may be seeking to extort money from the victim.

However, some common characteristics are often seen in attackers. For example, many modern attackers are “script kiddies” – inexperienced individuals who use pre-made tools and scripts to launch attacks. Others may be part of organized crime syndicates or “hacktivist” groups. No matter who’s launching an attack, they’re often considered a black-hat hacker, as their intentions tend to be malicious.

Identifying a DDoS Attack

What is a DDoS attack actually doing to your website and server? Learning to discern one from just a regular traffic spike is important, as not every traffic jam on your site is a threat. While the specifics may vary, there are several general signs that can indicate that a website is under attack from a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack.

One common sign is an unusually large amount of traffic coming from a single source. This can cause the website to become slow or unresponsive and may also cause errors when users try to access the site.

Another sign is a sudden increase in 404 or other error messages. This can be caused by attackers deliberately flooding the server with requests for nonexistent pages in an attempt to overload it. In some cases, attackers may also target specific pages or resources on a website in order to make them unavailable.

If you notice any of these signs, it's important to take action quickly in order to minimize the damage from the attack.

How Does DDoS Work?

DDoS attacks are designed to disable a target computer or website by overwhelming it with traffic. The attacker uses a network of infected computers, known as botnets, to generate the attack traffic. Botnets can be very large, consisting of hundreds of thousands or even millions of infected computers.

The attacker will use a tool to send commands to the botnets, telling them when and how to launch the attack. When the attack begins, the botnets will inundate the target with traffic, causing it to slow down or even crash.

DDoS attacks can be very sophisticated, and they are often customized to exploit specific vulnerabilities in the target’s system. For example, an attacker might target a server with a lot of traffic or a service that is known to be resource-intensive.

Different DDoS Attack Types

Although they all have similar purposes, DDoS attacks aren’t the same. Depending on the attack vector and goal, they can be roughly divided into three distinct categories:

1. Volume-based Attacks

These are the most basic attacks whose goal is to oversaturate the target’s bandwidth and disrupt their operations. Hackers measure these attacks with bits per second. As for the methods, they’re usually UDP and ICMP floods, simply packets of data used to bombard the website.

2. Protocol Attacks

Using methods like the Ping of Death, SYN flood, or fragmented packets, the bad actors try to destabilize and, ultimately, crash the server they’re targeting. These attacks are very resource-consuming for the target. 

3. Application Layer Attacks

These targeted DDoS attacks are designed to send as many requests per second as possible so that they can crash a web server. Specifically, they’re aimed at the Apache and Windows machines and try to exploit their vulnerabilities.

The Consequences of a DDoS Attack

DDoS attacks can have a significant impact on businesses and organizations. The cost of such an attack can be very high, and it can cause disruptions to business operations, damage to company reputation, and loss of customers.

In addition, DDoS attacks often serve as a distraction from more sophisticated attacks, such as data breaches. By drawing attention to the denial of service attacks, the attacker may be able to conceal their tracks and launch a more damaging attack without being detected.

The Dangers of DDoS Attacks

Since the point of a DDoS attack is to disrupt a company or a service, it is a serious offense that can result in significant legal penalties. If you are caught conducting a DDoS attack, you could be fined, imprisoned, or both.

It is also a form of cyber vandalism and can damage the reputation of the target organization. In some cases, DDoS attacks have been used to extort money, so it’s little wonder that the authorities consider it a criminal activity.

Protection Against DDoS Attacks

DDoS attacks can be very damaging, and they are often very difficult to stop. However, there are some steps you can take to protect your business from this growing threat:

  1. Implement a firewall: Firewalls are the first layer of DDoS protection. They block attack traffic and protect your network from DDoS attacks.
  2. Use a web application firewall: Web application firewalls (WAFs) can help to protect your website from DDoS attacks.
  3. Implement rate limiting: Rate limiting is a technique that can be used to limit the amount of traffic that is allowed to reach a server. This can help prevent DDoS attacks by making it more difficult for attackers to generate the necessary amount of traffic.
  4. Use a content delivery network: Content delivery networks (CDNs) distribute traffic across multiple servers, making it more difficult for attackers to succeed by taking down a single server with a DDoS attack. Consider getting yourself a CDN service if you’re running a larger website with lots of traffic.
  5. Implement security measures: There are a number of security measures that can be implemented to help protect against DDoS attacks, such as intrusion detection and prevention systems (IDPS), anti-DDoS solutions, and load balancers.
  6. Educate your employees: Employees should be educated on the dangers of DDoS attacks and how to protect against them. They should also know what to do if they suspect their company is under attack.
  7. Stay up-to-date: Keep yourself updated on the latest news and information about DDoS attacks. This will help you to be aware of new threats and how to protect against them.
  8. Have a plan: Make sure that you have a plan in place for how to respond to a DDoS attack. This should include steps for identifying an attack, mitigating the damage, and recovering from it.
  9. Work with a partner: Working with a partner who specializes in DDoS protection can help to ensure that your business is protected from this growing threat.
  10. Be prepared: DDoS attacks can happen at any time, so it’s essential to be prepared and learn about preventing a DDoS attack. Ensure that you have the necessary tools and resources to deal with an attack quickly and efficiently.

What To Do if You're Attacked

It’s vital not to panic if you fall victim to a DDoS attack. Identifying where the attack is coming from should be your first course of action, as that will help you block the IP range that’s targeting you. Remember that the attackers are prone to using VPNs and other masking tricks to hide their real location.

The next step is blocking the attacker and doing a damage assessment. You should consider limiting traffic on your server until the attacks stop and, if possible, get a CDN to offload some of the data to other servers.

If the attack is causing significant damage and doesn’t stop after all the standard measures have been taken, you may need help from law enforcement. DDoS attacks are considered criminal activity in most places, and the attacker can be prosecuted.

You should also have a plan in place for recovering from a targeted DDoS attack. One good practice is to have a cloud backup ready, but you can also do local backups on spare hard drives.

DDoS attacks can be very damaging, but they are also preventable. By taking steps to protect your business, you can reduce the risk of being attacked.

Final Thoughts

DDoS attacks are becoming fairly common these days, and they will only get more sophisticated in the future. As the internet continues growing, attackers will have more opportunities to target businesses with DDoS attacks.

If you want to protect your enterprise, staying up-to-date on the latest news and information about DDoS attacks is essential. You should also implement security measures and have a plan in place for how to respond to an attack.

Working with a partner who knows how to prevent a DDoS attack can also help to ensure that your business is protected from this growing threat.

What is an example of a DDoS attack?

Arguably the most infamous DDoS attack happened when a hacking group from China targeted Google in September of 2017. At its peak, the attack sent 2.5 Tbps of data to 180,000 DNS and SMTP servers, slowing down many of the company’s services.

What are the 3 types of DDoS attacks?

DDoS attacks split into three distinct types depending on how they’re executed. They can be volume-based attacks, those that target protocols, or application layer attacks. 

Is a DDoS attack harmful?

A DDoS attack always inflicts some damage to the target. It can be simple tarnishing of a company’s reputation, but it can also lead to losing profits in case of prolonged loss of services and online stores. As long as the attack lasts, services will be unavailable to customers.

How are DDoS attacks stopped?

Knowing how to detect the attacks and their behavior is half the battle. Once you locate the threat, you need to ack quickly:  either contact your provider or rate limit your server. You want to restrict access to vulnerabilities and have a backup plan ready. If you are asking us, “Just what is a DDoS attack capable of, anyway?” check out our article above.

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