3 Signs of a Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) Attack
If you’ve ever tried to access a website and are met with no response or the website comes back as unavailable, it could simply be that the servers are just overloaded. Perhaps your network seems to be a bit sluggish and won’t let you connect to the internet. Either of these might be a temporary interruption, soon to be restored. Or, that website you wanted to visit, or your network might be the victim of a distributed denial of service attack, better known as DDoS.
A DDoS attack is not the same as an overloaded server due to a temporary spike in traffic. An excellent example of this difference was last holiday season when the rush to find an Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5 was at its height. The type of volume created by this demand made some retail websites slow or even briefly inaccessible.
After the game systems were sold out, the website returned to normal operations once the influx of web requests slowed. Although not necessarily a deliberate cyberattack, the inability of a server for a website to handle the massive amount of traffic is the same result as a DDoS.
A DDoS is one of the most used cyberattacks in the arsenal of a hacker. The ease with which a DDoS attack is deployed and their extreme effectiveness make them a popular choice. Some cybercriminal organizations even offer DDoS as a service for sale. According to Cisco, DDoS attacks are expected to rise from 7.9 million in 2018 to over 15 million per year by 2023.
What is a DDoS Attack?
In the simplest of definitions, a DDoS attack is an attempt by an army of bots called a botnet to overload a website’s server or flood a network with more traffic than it can handle to slow or even completely shut either of them down.
A DDoS attack is not the same as thousands or even hundreds of thousands of people trying to visit a website, making it inaccessible for a short period of time. A DDoS attack is when an individual or a group deliberately creates so much information traffic that the server or network shuts down and becomes unable to function.
By comparison, a denial of service (DoS) attack is one computer attempting to send malicious data to another. A DDoS is multiple computers attempting the same attack on a target.
DDoS attacks can happen to any organization or any individual at any time. And based on the sheer volume that occurs every day at different scales and varying success, if a DDoS attack hasn’t impacted you, it might only be a matter of when.
How Does a DDoS Attack Happen?
DDoS attacks happen when a significant information overload hits a targeted server, website, or network service. If the attack successfully overloads the target, then the impact effectively shuts down a website, takes a network offline, or makes access to anything on the internet exceedingly slow or even impossible.
The most common DDoS attack is information flooding by volume on a web server. However, networks that use the Open Systems Interconnection model can suffer the effects of a DDoS attack. The hackers target the layer (usually layer 7) that handles web page requests and target that part of the network.
Although a DDoS attack can be made by an individual hacker or a criminal organization, the actual attack isn’t carried out by someone sitting at a computer and sending requests over and over. Instead, computer-based bots repeatedly send the high volume of requests and at a volume that servers or networks can’t keep up with and process.
The bots work together to flood a server by exceeding the available bandwidth or disrupting a network with vast amounts of information and data, effectively shutting it down. The bots that comprise the botnet aren’t just computers either but can be any internet-connected device that is a part of the ever-growing Internet of Things.
Three Signs of a DDoS Attack
It can sometimes be challenging to know if a website is down due to a temporary spike in traffic or for more sinister reasons. Or if a network is latent from regular issues or under attack by a botnet. Even the early signs of a legitimate DDoS attack can be attributed to everyday interruptions on the internet.
If you see these three signs, you might be under a DDoS attack:
1. A website becomes slow to access or even inaccessible.
2. A network suddenly can’t connect to the internet.
3. A computer becomes sluggish or non-responsive.
The length of time for these interruptions is the main difference between a spike in website traffic that slows server response time or makes a network unresponsive and a DDoS attack. Regular server overloads or network issues are typically resolved in a short amount of time. A DDoS attack keeps websites and networks down for hours or even days.
Who Uses DDoS Attacks?
There are several reasons why a hacker or a cybercriminal organization would deploy a DDoS attack. Sometimes the reason is simply that the hacker can launch the attack. Other times, a company is held at ransom, and the DDoS attack will only cease when their demands are met. DDoS attacks can also be used as distractions, diverting people and resources to stop the attack while the hackers go after their intended target, for example, data theft.
Even the largest tech companies are not immune to a DDoS attack. Both Google and Amazon Web Services have suffered from DDoS. GitHub, a version control service popular with programmers, suffered two different DDoS attacks in recent years.
If you are a gamer, the term DDoS is likely a sore but familiar topic. In gaming, a DDoS attack is used by one player on another to effectively shut down the opponent’s internet, thus giving the cheating gamer a competitive advantage and usually an easy win.
This attack in gaming circles typically happens when one player gets the IP address of another player and floods that individual’s home network with requests, to the point of little to no internet connection. Gamers who cheat by employing DDoS attacks instead of playing the game the way it was intended are reviled by other gamers.
How to Protect Against a DDoS Attack
Despite the legitimate threat that a DDoS attack presents to both individuals and companies and their increasing frequency, there are steps you can take to protect and mitigate the potential damage.
While it is practically impossible to achieve complete protection from a DDoS attack, knowing your website’s traffic is one way to know if a spike is a temporary increase in usage or the beginnings of a DDoS attack. Monitoring web traffic or network usage may seem simple, but it could be the difference between taking prompt action to thwart a DDoS attack or having your website or network down for an extended amount of time.
Equally simple yet effective, making sure to use a robust firewall and antivirus software are proven methods to defend against and mitigate a DDoS attack. There are some firewall and antivirus programs specifically designed to combat a DDoS attack.
Another option is to consider using a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN hides your IP address, one of the most common data elements a botnet uses to launch a DDoS attack.
Knowledge of DDoS and how to stop them is just as important. Here at CBT Nuggets, we offer a dedicated course on a DDoS attack and how you can be prepared.
DDoS attacks are on the rise and are frequently employed by hackers and cybercriminals. Taking the steps now to ensure that your website and network are hardened against a DDoS attack can prevent crippling damage and mitigate expensive long-term outages. It may be a matter of when, not if you experience a DDoS attack, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be prepared.