In our increasingly online world, every company must be prepared to deal with cyberattacks of all varieties. One of the most common types of cyberattacks that can devastate your servers is a distributed denial-of-service or DDoS attack.
How does a DDoS attack begin and end? How can you prevent one from striking your company where it’s most vulnerable? Here’s what you need to know about this common cybercrime.
What Is a DDoS Attack?
Distributed Denial-of-Service attacks are sometimes known as Distributed Network Attacks or DDoS attacks for short. They are a common cybercrime threat faced by online casinos, stores, and businesses reliant upon providing online services. This type of cyber attack focuses on maxing out the capacity limits on a network’s resources.
Once the company’s capacity to handle multiple requests gets overburdened, the site won’t work correctly. This denies service to people who would enter it, giving a DDoS attack its name.
How Do DDoS Attacks Function?
Now that you understand what a DDoS attack is, let’s take a closer look at how such attack functions. DDoS attacks get carried out by extensive networks of internet-connected machines infected with malware that allows a user to control them remotely. This group of devices is known as a “botnet”, while the machines within it are known as “bots” or sometimes “zombies”.
When the target’s server or network gets attacked by the botnet, each individual bot in the system sends requests to their IP address. This could cause the server to get overwhelmed, denying service to regular users. Worse, since the attack comes from thousands of individual devices, sorting out the bots from the humans can prove difficult.
Common Symptoms of a DDoS Attack
If your website’s service has become slow or nonresponsive, you should have a DDoS attack on your radar as a possible cause. Normal website traffic spikes might cause similar issues. So, make sure you examine your analytics for the following hallmarks:
- Traffic patterns that strike at odd, inconsistent, or unnatural patterns and intervals
- A sudden, inexplicable surge in traffic and requests for a specific page
- A suspicious increase in requests from a specific IP address or IP range
- A massive flood of users who all share a behavioral profile like geolocation, browser version, or device type
If you notice any of these symptoms, you’ve likely been hit by a DDoS attack. However, the specific symptoms may vary depending on the type of attack.
Types of DDoS Attack
A Distributed Denial-of-Service Attack will typically fall into one of four major categories. There are many variations that your company might need to watch out for. However, they will generally fit into one of these four overarching attack classes. These four classes include:
Attacks of this variety will flood a recipient with TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) or UDP (User Datagram Protocol) fragments to their target. This will severely overwhelm their target’s ability to re-assemble their streams and reduce their performance.
2. TCP Connection Attacks
Attacks of this type will try to use every available connection to common infrastructure devices such as application servers, load-balancers, and firewalls. Even if the device can maintain its state with millions of connections, it can still get taken down by this type of attack.
3. Application Attacks
These attacks are more targeted than the other attack types. They focus on overwhelming or disabling a specific element of a service or application. As such, these attacks can prove effective even with few machines dedicated to the assault, which makes them difficult to spot.
4. Volumetric Attacks
This type of attack thrives on causing congestion and using up bandwidth for a website. Volumetric attacks will attempt to eat up all the bandwidth a site has on its own, or consume the bandwidth connecting it with the rest of the internet at large.
How Attacks Multiply Their Traffic
The terrifying thing about these attacks is that the instigator doesn’t necessarily need to build a network of thousands of machines if they use the right tools. Common methods hackers use to amplify the traffic they sent to a target include:
Chargen is an outdated testing service that allows devices to request that a device reply with streams of random characters. Most internet-connected devices support this testing service, which leaves them vulnerable to this method of amplification.
This type of amplification relies on forging its victim’s IP address. With that forged IP address, the attacker can send many small requests to a DNS server, requesting large replies. This can boost the botnet’s requests to get amplified as much as seventy times in size, easily overwhelming the intended target.
How to Handle a DDoS Attack
Handling a DDoS attack often requires the aid of IT professionals, Common methods these IT services will use to help mitigate the effects of a DDoS may include:
- Blackhole routing: A method in which all traffic, good and bad, gets routed to a null route, then dropped from the network
- Rate limiting: This attempts to limit the number of requests a server accepts within certain windows, but can lead to normal spikes in traffic reading as false positives
- Applying a Web Application Firewall between the original server and the internet to act as a reverse proxy
However, many of these mitigation efforts give the DDoS attackers what they want: Your site rendered inaccessible.
DDoS Attack 101: A Review
Let’s review: What is a DDoS attack? A DDoS attack is a cybercrime that intends to prevent a website from functioning correctly by using a botnet to flood it with requests and overwhelm its ability to respond. DDoS attacks fall under four major categories and can be amplified in two main ways.
Mitigating the aftereffects of a DDOS attack is difficult, especially when it’s hard to tell the bot traffic from the legitimate traffic. However, if you know what to look for, you can better protect yourself from future DDoS efforts.
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