How to Identify & Protect Against DDoS Attacks
A DDoS attack may be one of the least sophisticated forms of cyberattacks, but it has the potential to be one of the most disruptive and most powerful – and it can be incredibly challenging to prevent and mitigate.
If you’ve ever heard about a website being “brought down by hackers,” it typically means that the site has fallen victim to a DDoS attack. Essentially, hackers have attempted to cause the website to crash by saturating it with an excessive amount of traffic.
To find out how to identify and protect your business against DDoS attacks, read on…
WHAT IS A DDoS ATTACK?
A distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack is a malicious assault launched from large clusters of compromised computer systems and internet-connected devices, including computers, cell phones, routers, and IoT devices. This network of devices, collectively referred to as a botnet, is used to flood the targeted website or its surrounding infrastructure with huge volumes of internet traffic – including incoming messages, connection requests, and fake packets.
The ultimate aim of a DDoS attack is to disrupt the normal traffic of a targeted server, service, network, website, device, or application in order to prevent legitimate users from accessing it.
A successful DDoS attack can take the service offline for a significant period of time, ranging from seconds to weeks at a time. The impact of such an attack can be extremely destructive to any online organization, leading to loss of revenue, erosion of consumer trust, and long-term reputation damage. Considering the sheer volume of devices involved, these multi-person, multi-device barrages are usually harder to fend off.
DDoS attacks are favorite weapons of choice for hacktivists, cyber vandals, extortionists, and anyone else seeking to make a statement or support a cause. Attackers’ motivations might be to cause mischief, exact revenge, or may even serve as a smokescreen for other nefarious activities, including breaching the target’s security perimeter.
3 COMMON TYPES OF DDoS ATTACKS
DDoS attacks can be divided into three primary categories:
Application-layer (or layer 7) attacks overload an application or server with a large number of requests requiring resource-intensive handling and processing. If the target receives millions of these requests in a short period of time, it can very quickly get overwhelmed and either slow to a crawl or freeze up completely. Size is measured in requests per second (RPS). Examples include: HTTP floods, slow attacks, and DNS query flood attacks.
Network-layer (or layer 3-4) attacks send large numbers of packets to the targeted network’s infrastructures and management tools. Size is measured in packets per second (PPS). Examples include: UDP floods, SYN floods, NTP amplification, DNS amplification, and Smurf attacks.
Volume-based attacks use massive amounts of bogus traffic to overwhelm a resource such as a website or server. Size is measured in bits per second (BPS). Examples include: ICMP, UDP, and spoofed-packet flood attacks.
HOW DOES A DDoS ATTACK WORK?
Cybercriminals commandeer internet-connected machines by carrying out malware attacks; or, alternately, they gain access by utilizing the default username and password the product is issued with – assuming the device is password-protected at all. Once attackers have infiltrated the device, it becomes part of a botnet that they control. Botnets can vary in size from a reasonably small number of compromised devices – known as “zombies” – to millions of them.
These machines could be located anywhere in the world – thus the term “distributed” – and it’s doubtful the owners of the devices even realize what they’re being used for, as it’s likely the devices have been appropriated by hackers. The botnet can then be used to inundate a website or server with a superabundance of “fake” internet traffic.
Servers, networks, and other online services are equipped to handle a certain amount of traffic. But if they’re swamped with a horde of traffic such as occurs in a DDoS attack, systems can become overloaded. The high volume of traffic being transmitted by the DDoS attack clogs up or otherwise interferes with the system’s capabilities, while also prohibiting authorized users from accessing online services (which is where the “denial of service” element comes in).
HOW TO KNOW IF YOU’RE UNDER A DDoS ATTACK
Any organization with a web-facing element needs to consider the amount of web traffic it typically receives and prepare for it accordingly. Large volumes of legitimate traffic can engulf servers, leading to slow service or no service – which could conceivably scare off potential customers. But organizations also have to be able to distinguish between genuine web traffic and a DDoS attack.
Consequently, capacity planning is a vital element of operating any website, with careful consideration given to determining what is an anticipated, typical amount of traffic and what extraordinarily high or unforeseen volumes of authentic traffic might look like. This forethought helps avoid causing interruption of service to users, whether by crashing the site because of high demands or erroneously blocking access due to a DDoS false alarm.
So, how can organizations tell the difference between a bona fide spike in demand and a DDoS attack?
Customarily, an outage brought on by legitimate traffic will only last for a brief period of time. Often the reason for the outage is apparent, such as an online retailer experiencing high demand for a new product, or a new video game’s online servers being flooded with traffic from enthusiastic gamers.
In the case of a DDoS attack, however, there are some unmistakable signs that a malicious and targeted campaign is underway. Oftentimes, DDoS attacks are engineered to cause disruption over a prolonged period of time, which could mean rapid increases in traffic at intervals of time causing frequent outages.
Another prime indicator that your organization has, in all likelihood, been hit with a DDoS attack is that online services abruptly slow down or go offline entirely for several days in a row, which could suggest that the services are being targeted by cybercriminals who simply want to wreak as much havoc as possible.
Some of these attackers might be executing an attack merely to cause chaos, while others may have been compensated to target a certain site or service. Still others might be attempting to run some type of extortion racket, vowing to call off the attack in return for a ransom.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU’RE UNDER A DDoS ATTACK
Once it’s become obvious that your organization has been targeted by a DDoS attack, you should construct a timeline of when the issues began and identify how long they’ve persisted, as well as determining which assets like applications, services, and services are affected – and how that is adversely affecting users, customers, and the business in general.
It’s also crucial to notify your web-hosting provider as soon as possible. It’s probable that they will have already recognized the DDoS attack, but contacting them directly may help lessen the impact of a DDoS campaign. If it’s possible for your provider to switch your IP address, this will help prevent the DDoS from having the impact it did previously due to the fact that the attack will be pointing in the wrong direction. Security providers that offer DDoS mitigation services can also help minimize the impact of an attack.
Finally, if you have determined that your site is under attack, notify users about what’s going on as quickly as you can. Consider putting up a temporary site explaining the problem and providing users with steps they can follow in order to continue to use the service. Social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram can also be used to promote this message.
HOW TO PROTECT AGAINST DDoS ATTACKS
Let’s be clear: it’s impossible to completely prevent a DDoS attack. Cybercriminals will continue to attack, and some are going to hit their targets, regardless of the defenses in place. However, there are a few preventative measures your company can take to protect against these types of attacks:
Monitor Your Web Traffic
As previously mentioned, having a clear grasp on what a “regular” level of web traffic looks like, as well as what would be considered abnormal, is critical in helping defend against DDoS attacks or spotting them early.
Keep an eye out for unexplained upsurges in traffic and visits from questionable IP addresses and geolocations, as these could be signs of cyberattackers executing “dry runs” to test your defenses prior to committing to a full-blown attack.
Some security experts suggest setting up alerts that will inform you if the number of requests for access exceeds a certain threshold. While this might not conclusively point to malicious activity, it does at least provide an advance warning that something sinister might be in the works.
Configure Your Firewalls and Routers
Firewalls and routers can play a prominent role in minimizing the damage of a DDoS attack. If configured properly, they can divert fake traffic by identifying it as potentially perilous and intercepting it before it ever arrives.
For optimum results, keep your firewalls and routers up-to-date with the latest security patches, as these systems remain your first line of defense against cyberthreats.
Plan Ahead And Be Ready to Respond
Initiate a rapid response plan, establishing procedures for your customer support and communication teams, not only for your IT professionals. Appoint a group of people within the organization whose duty it is to lessen the impact of a potential attack.
Enlisting the services of a third party to conduct DDoS testing – known as “pen testing” – can help detect your organization’s vulnerabilities, a crucial element of any protection protocol. DDoS testing simulates an attack against your IT infrastructure to see how it responds, enabling you to be even better prepared when the moment of truth arrives.
Consider Using Artificial Intelligence
While advanced firewalls and intrusion detection systems are most commonly used to stave off DDoS attacks, artificial intelligence (AI) is also being used to develop new systems.
These systems are designed to rapidly redirect internet traffic to the cloud for further analysis. Any traffic that’s determined to be malicious in nature can then be blocked before it ever reaches a company’s computers.
Not only might such programs be capable of recognizing and protecting against known DDoS indicative patterns, the self-learning capabilities of AI could also help anticipate and pinpoint DDoS patterns as well.
In addition, researchers are exploring the idea of using blockchain – the technology behind Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies – to allow people to share their untapped bandwidth in order to absorb the malicious traffic generated in a DDoS attack and render it useless.
Enable Comprehensive Security
Botnets are often built on devices with little to no integrated security features. Many IoT devices – “smart” machines that connect to the internet for greater functionality and efficiency – come with default usernames and passwords which many consumers neglect to immediately change after purchasing the devices.
Secure, unique passwords should be established for all devices connected to the internet, both within and outside the business environment – particularly if the organization encourages employees to use their own devices to perform their duties from time to time.
To further protect all your devices from malware – which, as we have seen, can directly aid in executing DDoS attacks – it’s important to make sure that comprehensive security solutions are being deployed. Make an effort to do some research and commit to cybersecurity solutions for your business that you can trust.
Despite the various measures an organization can take to help prevent a DDoS attack, some attempts will still be successful anyway. The fact of the matter is, if cyberattackers truly wish to take down an online service and have enough resources in place, they’ll do everything they can to succeed in their efforts.
However, if businesses are well-acquainted with the warning signs, it is possible to be prepared in the event that a DDoS attack does occur.
Cybersecurity has never been more important. We live in an increasingly connected world which enables cyberattackers to constantly find new ways to carry out digital attacks. Even the most vigilant business owners and IT managers become overwhelmed with the stress of maintaining network security and protecting their data.
DataGroup Technologies, Inc. (DTI) offers a wide variety of cybersecurity services to help protect your business from cyberthreats, including next-generation firewalls, email security solutions, web and DNS filtering, network security monitoring, operating systems and application security patches, and antivirus software.
If your business could benefit from one or more of these state-of-the-art services, give us a call at 252.329.1382 today!