In our modern world of rapidly advancing technology, hackers, cybercriminals, and malicious actors are continuously searching for their next vulnerable target.
When it comes to Distributed Denial of Service attacks (abbreviated DDoS), the unfortunate reality is — they’re not going away any time soon.
Businesses and individuals must begin taking security seriously to mitigate DDoS risks such as loss of profits, angry customers, brand damage, and the potential loss of critical data.
When hosting publicly visible content online (such as a company website, Discord bot hosted on a VPS, or small application), it’s important to verify you have some form of DDoS protection on your server.
Table of Contents
What is a DDoS attack?
A distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack is a type of “overload” cyberattack in which a large number of computers from a wide range of locations and IP addresses are used to send a continuous stream of traffic to a website or server. This stream of requests makes it difficult for users to access the site and can overload the hosting server taking it offline. Just as the name suggests, a Denial of Service (DoS attack) aims to “deny service” to a legitimate user by overloading the target server or application.
DDoS attacks can be used by cybercriminals to inflict financial damage to a company, disrupt its day-to-day operations, cause data loss, or take it offline altogether.
In the following sections, we’ll dissect the typical DDoS attack types and break them up into their fundamental counterparts.
One attack methodology by which DDoS attacks cause damage and downtime is through excessive request volumes that overwhelm the target system. This is, in essence, a volumetric attack.
By sending a large quantity of data or large packets to a vulnerable target system, often from a large number of locations simultaneously, the target system can quickly become overwhelmed, crash, and become unavailable to users.
There are many types of protocols used in distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. Some of the most common protocols include DNS, TCP, and UDP.
DNS is used to lookup hostnames and IP addresses, TCP and UDP are used for transferring data, and UDP is used for low-latency communication. To put it simply, a “protocol” is simply a communication standard that various computer systems use to send data packets back and forth to one another.
In a protocol attack, cyber attackers exploit flaws in the protocol to bring down a system, overload it, or inject malicious code.
A UDP flood is a type of Denial of Service attack that involves sending a large number of UDP (User Datagram Protocol) packets to a target. UDP packets are small “packages of data” used for communication between devices on a network and can be exploited through a large number of requests.
If an attacker targets random ports on the machine they’re looking to exploit and sends a number of IP packets via. UDP, that machine will return “Destination Unreachable” if there’s no application associated with the targeted port. If you have too many “Destination Unreachable” UDP messages stack up, the result is an unresponsive host machine or network.
SYN Flood Attack & TCP Attacks
An SYN flood attack, also known as the “half-open attack”, attempts to make a publicly hosted server or application unavailable to users by overwhelming it through Denial of Service (DoS).
An SYN (synchronize) packet is used between a client and server to establish an initial connection and start a TCP session. If these initial connection packets are sent repeatedly at a rapid pace, an attacker can overwhelm a targeted machine’s ports and make it unavailable to legitimate users.
An attack on a Domain Name System (DNS) attempts to bring a company, organization, or public server to its knees by using DNS as an attack vector.
A DNS attack can be executed through Denial of Service (DoS), Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS), or DNS amplification. Additionally, DNS can be exploited through DNS hijacking, DNS tunneling, DNS poisoning, and cache poisoning.
Application Layer Attacks
Application layer attacks are carried out at the application layer of the network protocol stack, which means they involve attacking the application itself rather than the network infrastructure that supports it.
Due to this attack methodology, application-layer attacks are more difficult to detect and defend against as they can go undetected until they have already caused significant damage.
There are a number of ways to prevent a DDoS attack and boost your cloud security, network security, and overall peace of mind.
DDoS protection options can range from exceedingly simple up to technically complex and expensive. Depending on the needs of your organization and the scale of your website, web application, or network, you can scale up or scale down your DDoS protection efforts so they’re in line with your budget and level of risk.
Ways you can beef up your protection against DDoS attacks today include:
- Using a firewall to block incoming traffic from unauthorized sources.
- Establishing robust defenses against attack vectors, making sure that your systems are well-protected against both known and unknown attacks including malware and viruses.
- Implementing a robust incident response plan to respond to and mitigate any attacks that do occur, and ensuring all personnel is trained in how to respond in critical situations.
- Using a quality DDoS mitigation service; take advantage of expert knowledge and experience.
There is no single answer to mitigating DDoS attacks, and the best method for each organization will vary.
On a fundamental level, organizations can mitigate their DDoS vulnerabilities by establishing and enforcing strong cyber security policies, implementing robust network security measures, adding firewalls, adding intrusion detection and prevention systems, installing anti-spyware software, and educating employees on the risks and the importance of proper cyber security protocols.
One of the most important aspects of cybersecurity is establishing endpoint security measures. This involves protecting the devices and systems that are used to access corporate networks and data, reducing the risk of cyberattacks and data theft.
Some organizations opt for traditional security measures such as firewalls, intrusion detection and prevention systems (IDS/IPS), and encrypted networks. Others use more innovative methods, such as malware detection and removal tools, virtual private networks (VPNs), and cloud-based security services.
Whichever approach is chosen, it’s important to select the right tools and employ a layered approach to security that’ll ultimately help protect against both known and unknown threats.
Blocking Malicious Traffic
In order to protect against a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, it’s important to block malicious traffic before it can get in the door. This ensures the only way an external source can get access to your network or server is if they’re explicitly given access from within. With fewer malicious requests, the chances of a bad actor discovering a vulnerability or exploit drop substantially, instantly beefing up your server security.
Malicious traffic blocking can be accomplished through firewalls, intrusion detection systems (IDS), and various network security applications.
Protecting Your IoT Device
An IoT or “Internet of Things” device is simply any device that connects to the internet.
When it comes to protecting your IoT-connected devices, there are a number of simple steps you can follow to ensure a base level of security.
Here are a few simple ways you can protect your IoT device:
- Ensure your device is always connected to the internet using a secure, reliable, and trusted connection.
- Keep your device’s operating system and applications up to date to protect against vulnerabilities and attacks.
- Use a firewall to protect your device from unauthorized access.
- Use strong passwords and keeping them frequently updated.
DDoS Attacks in History
DDoS attacks have been around for quite some time, with the first recorded DDoS attack occurring in the year 2000. Since then, DDoS attacks have become increasingly common and more sophisticated, targeting websites, web applications, email servers, and disrupting business operations.
Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks are a type of cyberattack where malicious actors use many systems and networks simultaneously to send requests to a target so fast that they can’t handle the load.
In 2016, security researchers noticed an unusual spike in the number of DDoS attacks against targets across the globe. Dubbed “Mirai” after the malware used in the attacks, the Mirai botnet was made up of devices such as webcams, DVRs, and even baby monitors that had been infected with a malware program, allowing cybercriminals to control them and launch DDoS attacks.
Mirai was responsible for launching a plethora of DDoS attacks against websites across the globe, causing major disruptions and costing businesses large monetary damages.
What was the largest DDoS attack?
The largest DDoS attack recorded to date happened in September 2017 against Google services. At its peak, the DDoS reached 2.54 Tbps and bombarded Google’s servers with hundreds of thousands of spoofed packets.
How do modern DDoS attacks differ from the past?
Over the last several decades, modern DDoS attacks have evolved in how they’re executed and the amount of damage they can do to businesses, organizations, websites, and applications.
The first DDoS attacks were executed manually by groups of protesters. Today, DDoS attacks have consisted of hundreds of thousands of compromised devices (called a “botnet”) that all simultaneously attack a target and exploit protocol vulnerabilities.