Beginner’s Guide to Understanding DDoS Attacks
You’ve likely seen headlines about major websites and services going offline due to DDoS attacks. But what precisely are these “distributed denial-of-service” attacks, how do they overwhelm websites, and why are they on the rise? This definitive guide breaks down DDoS attacks in simple terms to promote awareness and safety.
Part 1 – DDoS Attack Definition and Basics
DDoS stands for distributed denial of service – a blanket term for cyberattacks rendering online services or infrastructure unable to function properly by overloading them with artificially generated traffic from across the global internet.
By leveraging networks of compromised devices, DDoS attacks can flood victims with hundreds of gigabits per second of fraudulent requests or connection attempts. This deluge rapidly depletes server resources and broadband capacity past the breaking point.
Successful large-scale assaults can impose a variety of devastating consequences:
- Costly Downtime: Lost revenue, wages, sales, and productivity
- Reputational Harm: Diminished consumer and public trust after high-profile outages
- Ransom: Extortion payouts to halt attacks
- Cloud Service Fees: Bursting provisioned capacity to absorb floods
The impacts above explain why denial-of-service attacks remain a preferred vector for malicious actors ranging from cybercriminals and hacktivists to state-sponsored offenders.
To appropriately counter risks, let’s explore exactly how DDoS attacks overwhelm, common targets, motivations, tools and evolving techniques adversaries deploy.
Part 2 – Inside DDoS Attack Tools and Methods
The “distributed” nature of DDoS attacks refers to how assaults involve large networks of devices scattered across the globe, all coordinated to target victims in a manner extremely difficult to fully block.
Cybercriminals construct vast armies of co opted devices in the following ways:
Underground botnet herders covertly infect hundreds of thousands of minimally secured internet of things gadgets, computers and servers with malware to govern them remotely. By covertly lurking on home routers, webcameras, and servers, botnets evade detection gathering strength over months before activation.
Accessible via dark web marketplaces, unscrupulous booter/stressor services offer subscription DDoS capabilities to anyone willing to pay a few hundred dollars monthly. Booter operators maintain vast rental networks ready to fire upon command.
Once amassed, botnets and booters unleash an overwhelming variety of traffic flood types:
- Volumetric Attacks: Sheer high capacity bandwidth floods attempting to saturate the capacity of defenders’ internet bandwidth. Flow varieties include UDP, ICMP and DNS floods.
- Protocol Attacks: Target network infrastructure weaknesses by malformed packets triggering collisions or state table exhaustion. Well known examples include SYN floods, ACK floods, and fragmented packet attacks.
- Application Layer Attacks: Directly overwhelm web application logic and resources via GET/POST requests, database calls, or SSL renegotiations. Highly effective due to difficulty differentiating legitimate vs fake traffic.
With so many flood types at their disposal, adversaries constantly invent new algorithmic and infrastructure twists keeping targets off balance. DDoS tactics grow only more diverse and bespoke over time.
Part 3 – Common DDoS Targets and Motivations
While theoretically any organisation with an online presence faces some level of DDoS risk, attackers target certain victims far more frequently. Common high-value marks include:
Gaming: Downtime disrupts competitive play and in-game commerce central to hugely popular multiplayer franchises. Rival players also sometimes mutually DDoS one other.
Financials: Banks and financial exchanges deal in sensitive customer data and transactions requiring constant uptime during all market hours globally.
Cloud/CDN Providers: Degrading AWS, Azure or major CDNs indirectly impacts millions of sites reliant on their infrastructure.
Governments: State sponsored attackers and hacktivists alike target key agencies to erode public confidence or underline ideological stances.
News Outlets: High-visibility platforms draw politically or ideologically motivated assaults during times of controversy or conflict.
Attack motivations also run the gamut:
Financial Gain: Ransoming victims or rerouting their customers to attacker infrastructure yields direct windfalls for cybercriminals. Booter subscribers also profit from selling DDoS as a cheap service.
Hacktivism/Activism: Furthering social or political messages by forcibly taking down sites of opposing groups, corporations or governments. Anonymous commonly employs these tactics.
Personal Vendettas: Former employees, spurned lovers and others with personal grudges can easily rent DDoS services anonymously for revenge.
Competitive Disruption: Rival businesses hiring attackers to slow competitors down especially during key promotional periods, new product launches or BLACK FRIDAY.
As profitability around DDoS for hire increases exponentially in the shadows, website operators across industries should brace for collateral damage.
Part 4 – Protecting Against the Threat
Fortunately alongside menacing innovations in the wrong hands, cybersecurity defenders developed sophisticated measures to shield online properties. Chief protections include:
Overprovisioning Bandwidth: Maintaining surplus capacity absorbs most mid-sized attacks without impact. However, it is expensive for smaller sites.
CDN Caching and WAF Rules: Content delivery provider rules can filter and cache elements to rapidly isolate and block threats before reaching origin infrastructure.
DDoS Mitigation Networks: Route traffic through global scrubbing centres which filter bot related patterns and absorb volumetric floods. Expert 24/7 support.
Real-Time Monitoring: Combining intelligent detection with continuous visibility facilitates responding during initial warning signs of an emerging attack.
Failover/Backup Resources: If defences fail, redirecting DNS and activating redundancy quickly restores service integrity minimising revenue loss.
With advanced DDoS on the rise, websites must implement multilayered shields to mitigate risks without slowing legitimate traffic. Blending intelligent mitigation with emergency response planning is key to navigating outages.
By understanding DDoS intricacies, organisations of all sizes can better inoculate themselves against one of the internet’s top threats. While challenges persist, so do proven methods for emerging stronger while showcasing resilience.