What is a DDoS Attack and How to Prevent One

DDos attack

Certain types of attacks are on the rise which may cause your company’s website to go offline due to a huge influx of suspicious traffic. And that means you could be a target of a DDoS or Distributed Denial-of-Service attack.

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What exactly is a DDoS Attack?

When an attacker sends a flood of traffic to a network to disturb the system and disrupt its ability to operate, then that is called a DDoS attack. They are generally used to knock a website offline temporarily and this can even last for days too.

The term Denial-of-Service signifies that the website or server would be impuissant to serve genuine traffic during the attack. And ‘Distribute Denial-of-Service’ because the illegitimate traffic may come from hundreds, thousands, or even more of other computers.

A zombie army, or botnet, is used by hackers to enforce DDoS attacks on the target. These botnets are a collection of hijacked internet-enabled devices that are controlled from a remote location through some malware to put traffic on the desired address.

Kinds of Attacks

Vulnerabilities are targeted in different layers of system interconnection and are characterized into these three categories:

Application Layer Attacks

They are the simplest attacks in DDoS. They just mimic normal server requests, just like a regular user would access the website or server, and scales up the volume of these requests to a level which the server would not be able to handle and ultimately crash.

Protocol Attacks

This attack exploits the way a server processes data to flood the target with data packets. It has two variations, one is when the server receives more and more data packets from botnet and it endlessly waits for a confirmation from the source address, and the second is when the server resources get exhausted in reassembling the data packets.

Volumetric Attacks

These attacks are quite similar to Application Attacks, but they come with a twist. Here, the botnet requests eat up the entire server’s available bandwidth and that’s why the word ‘Volumetric’. Botnets deceive the servers into sending themselves huge amounts of requests and data.

Why DDoS Attacks?

Despite the new powers and sophistication of DDoS attacks, the basic ones could be easily done by literally anyone. One can pay for these attacks online or in the black market; an existing botnet could also be rented to perform these malicious practices.

Curious Fact
The first known DDoS attack, carried out by a 15-year-old Michael Calce (according to Norton), was simply done for bragging, just because he could.

But usually, people use these attacks for reasons like:

  • Businesses, to beat their competitors
  • Gamers, to take their opponents down
  • Trolls, to take out their revenge
  • Activists, to prevent access to certain content

The most affected are the ones who make the most business online. Big giants may lose millions of dollars because of the trouble caused by the downtime of their sites. So, it becomes very important for such organizations to be fully prepared for attacks like these to happen anytime.

How to Prevent One?

One cannot restrict the inflow of traffics to their server, but they definitely can be prepared to handle the load.

how to prevent ddos

Catch It Early

It’s very important for you to know about the actual expectancy of traffic on your website or server. You should know what is the low, normal, and high volume traffic for your organization. By knowing the upper limit, you can put rate-limiting, i.e., the server will restrict traffic after a certain level you fixed.

For this, up-to-date knowledge is required that can help in identifying the traffic trends. You should know when there are surges because of some marketing campaign, seasonality, etc. The authentic traffic also sometimes can cause this server-crashing effect, like due to some viral social media link, and thus downtime could harm your business in such cases.

More Bandwidth

After knowing the approximate server capacity that you require, you should consider it with a margin that you should get it a little more. Overprovisioning, or getting more server bandwidth, can buy more time in cases of attacks before an overload of your server or website.

CDN (Content Distribution Network)

A very good way to avoid any overload or downtime of your server is to use multiple servers to store the data. Content Distribution Network method is now widely used by many companies.

CDNs connect the user with a server that is in close proximity to it and helps in faster transfer of data. It also reduces the vulnerability of the network because even if one gets down, another server would be there to take up the task.

What to Do If You’ve Been Targeted?

DDoS attacks have now become very powerful, sophisticated, and very difficult to solve. So the best way is to avoid any risk with the right preventive measure in place from the start. But under attacks, there are some things which you can do:

Get Defensive Measures in Place

Set up rate-limiting measures as soon as you encounter a massive outbreak of server requests or traffic from some suspicious source, and clear up the server logs to free some space.

Call Hosting Provider

If your server is operated by someone else, then inform them right away. The might drop any of the incoming legitimate or illegitimate requests so that their other servers don’t crash along. After that, they may reroute the traffic requests and filter them to allow only normal requests to pass through.

Call a Specialist

For large-scale attacks, considering a DDoS mitigation specialist is best to avoid any downtime to your website. They can divert the traffic to their own servers to handle the load and also use ‘scrubbers’ to filter out illegitimate requests.

The Bottom Line Is to Be Prepared

To be on the safe side, any organization should always be prepared to handle much higher volumes of traffic requests than they actually need.

Installing a good antivirus program is always the best choice to safeguard yourself from such attacks and malware. CDN and rate-limiting techniques are other add-ons that can prove out to be useful.

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Author: Mark Bruno
Mark Bruno is not your typical computer geek. He has a degree in law and criminology, and always had a need for justice. Seeing how everything is getting digitalized, he decided to master cyber-security and virus protection with led him to join the LossOfPrivacy team.