What Is DDoS? Breaking Down a Distributed Denial of Service Attack

DDoS Attacks

DDoS attacks cost businesses an average of $221,836 in downtime per attack and disrupt service for millions of customers around the world.

“There is a problem with this page.” “This website is unavailable.” “This service is not available at this time.”

Error 503 notices are the last thing any website owner needs to see. CISOs and IT administrators all over the world are reaching for antacids as a result of them. When a site undergoes general site maintenance, these messages will appear. They can also be the product of malicious DDoS attacks, which, according to NETSCOUT, can cost companies more than $221,000 in downtime alone. Other costs and reputational damage aren’t even factored in.

But, what exactly is DDoS and how does it affect your website? We’ll look at what constitutes a DDoS attack, how it functions, and what you can do to safeguard your website.

What Is DDoS? Or, More Specifically, What Is a DDoS Attack?

It’s likely that your website has been subjected to a DDoS attack, or what’s more specifically known as a distributed denial of service attack, if it fails to load and says the server is busy. If you know what a denial of service (DoS) attack is, you’ll have a leg up on the competition when it comes to knowing what a DDoS attack is.

To Understand DDoS Attacks, You First Need to Understand DoS Attacks

When an attacker uses a single computer and an internet connection to repeatedly request services from your machine, this is known as a denial of service attack. In essence, it’s an all-out attack designed to overwhelm your processes and render them unresponsive to your customers and users.

Let us now take a DoS assault and take it to the next level. That’s what a DDoS attack gives you. But, exactly, what is a DDoS attack? A distributed denial of service attack, as the name implies, disrupts service for legitimate users. In other words, the server or device is being overburdened with traffic or service requests. This happens when a group of compromised devices — perhaps hundreds or thousands — use multiple internet connections to attack a single website, programme, or device in order to render it unresponsive.

GitHub, PlayStation Network, PayPal, Twitter, and Spotify are examples of real-world DDoS attack victims. It prevents people from accessing the target’s websites and facilities, preventing genuine consumers from paying for and using the affected services.

DDoS Attackers = Jerks, in other words.

Exploring How a Distributed Denial of Service Attack Works

Do you still have questions about how a DDoS attack works? Consider the following situation:

You work as a waiter in a restaurant. You’ll usually be given a section of five to eight tables to wait on and look after. On a typical workday, you can easily manage this workload. All is running smoothly; your customers are enjoying their meals, and everybody is pleased with the level of service they are receiving.

Assume that a large group of people enters and chooses to sit at one of the 20 tables that surround your section. They suddenly come up to you and demand that you wait for them. They’re impatient, and they’re always approaching you to get your attention. When you approach them to assist them, they dismiss you. You soon remember you don’t have enough bandwidth to support your allocated tables, and you become overwhelmed. You’re rushing from table to table, attempting to take orders, refill beverages, and distribute food to these new customers while still attending to your appointed customers.

One of the rude and demanding customers at the table nearest to the door unexpectedly backs their chair into you as you run out of the kitchen with an overflowing tray of food for one of your initial tables. You and the tray of entrees both fall to the floor. Food spills all over the place, making a big mess — and your original customers are furious. They are frustrated because they are not receiving the service they need and are tired of waiting. They make the decision to leave in order to receive better service elsewhere.

SYN Floods and Other Types of DDoS Attacks

The situation described above is similar to a SYN flood DDoS attack, as defined by the US Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). In this type of attack, a cybercriminal sends unnecessary traffic to your site from several sources in order to overwhelm it. They send link requests repeatedly without ever completing the three-way handshake to complete the connection, leaving your device waiting for an answer that never arrives. (Like the impatient tables of customers who arrived, demanded your attention, and then continued to ignore you in the example.)

“The incomplete handshake leaves the attached port in an occupied status and inaccessible for further requests,” according to the CISA website. An intruder can keep sending requests, saturating all available ports, making it impossible for legitimate users to connect.”

SYN floods, on the other hand, are just one form of DDoS attack; there are several more that we haven’t even discussed. The top 12 forms of DDoS attacks, according to Imperva, are:

  1. DNS amplification attacks
  2. UDP floods
  3. DNS floods
  4. HTTP floods
  5. IP fragmentation attacks
  6. NTP amplification
  7. Ping floods
  8. SNMP reflection
  9. Flood attacks (which we discussed moments ago)
  10. Smurf attacks
  11. Pings of Death
  12. Fork Bombs

BotNets Are the Cheapest, Most Effective Methods of DDoS Attacks

Botnets are almost often used in modern DDoS attacks. Botnets are a collection of vulnerable, wired devices ranging from smart baby monitors to connected office printers that have been hacked without their owners’ knowledge. Hackers and other cybercriminals can find plenty of openings in the Internet of Things (IoT) industry. This is due to the fact that IoT devices are notoriously insecure. For cybercriminals, renting botnets (or DDoS attack-for-hire services) is a low-cost option.

While device certificates, firewalls, and other security measures can help improve IoT device security, the vast majority of manufacturers fail to do so.

Hackers may use BotNets to do a variety of items, including:

  • Deploy large-scale distributed denial-of-service attacks against computer networks and websites.
  • Scale their attacks to extract funds that are practically untraceable by mining cryptocurrency.
  • To make their attacks appear to come from other places, they route traffic and spoof IP addresses.

But, hold on a second, don’t all DDoS attackers depend on botnets? Certainly not. Multiple attackers working together and using multiple internet connections and/or devices may carry out smaller attacks. However, botnets are used in the most serious attacks since an attacker will need to own thousands of computers, which is nearly impossible (or, at the very least, extremely unlikely).

Causes of DDoS Attacks

DDoS attacks may take place for a variety of reasons. Some hackers, for example, believe they have something to prove, while others are motivated by other factors:

Money, Money, Money

We know you were singing it in your head while reading it. For many hackers, monetary benefit is a major motivator. And, to be honest, DDoS attacks have the potential to be profitable in two ways:

  1. DDoS ransom attacks — When a hacker conducts a DDoS attack and promises to stop it if the target pays a “ransom,” it’s known as a DDoS ransom attack.
  2. Yes, you read that correctly: DDoS services for hire. DDoS services are available for hire from hackers and businesses.

Hacktivism and Nation-States

Some hackers use DDoS attacks to strike, battle, or protest anything, whether for political, social, or other reasons (or someone). Cyberattacks of this nature can include leaking or publishing confidential information, defacing websites, or bringing websites completely offline through DDoS attacks. Is there an increase in hacktivism or a decline in hacktivism? Who you ask has a big impact on the response.

Diversion

DDoS attacks are another technique used by cybercriminals to achieve a broader target. It’s essentially a cover-up attack to mask their true move, which may be a cyberattack on another part of the company. The theory is that if they can divert the target’s attention away from the DDoS assault, their true attack would go unnoticed in the ensuing chaos.

Dissecting the DDoS Attack Meaning and Costs for Your Business

So, what does a DDoS attack imply for your company? For instance, a successful DDoS attack would result in a large number of dissatisfied customers.

DDoS Attack Costs: Customers that aren’t pleased

I remember being incredibly annoyed while playing World of Warcraft (don’t judge me, it’s a fantastic game!) many years ago when the gaming servers kept going down in the middle of a raid. I had to keep updating the WOW Realm Status web page as a paying subscriber to see if there was any news on when the server would be back up.

And, as we all know, nobody is happy if their customers aren’t happy!

DDoS Attack Costs: Downtime and Mitigation

DDoS attacks are also cost-prohibitive. At the start of this report, we mentioned NETSCOUT’s projected downtime costs. However, there are additional costs associated with DDoS attacks, such as the labour and infrastructure required to combat DDoS attacks, as well as the reputational harm that such an attack can cause.

DDoS Attack Costs: Reputational Damage

Your reputation would suffer if your website or service is repeatedly taken offline by hackers due to a lack of security measures in place to combat DDoS attacks. The question is whether or not your business will be able to recover.

What You Can Do to Protect Your Business

Are you unsure what you can do to safeguard your company? You can begin by purchasing IoT product certificates. While this won’t shield your company from botnet attacks that use other people’s devices, it will prevent you from contributing to the broader problem by using vulnerable devices.

If your company is being targeted by a DDoS attack, there are a few things you can do to avoid the attacks and protect your company:

  • To secure your network and computers, use a combination of protection mechanisms. Using a content delivery network (CDN) with a web application firewall (WAF) and DDoS security built in, for example. What is the reason for this? You can prevent or mitigate the attack until it hits your web server because the CDN sits between your server and the offending attacker.
  • Make use of any other existing solutions or safeguards that are usable. For instance, you can contact your web host to find out what DDoS policies and safeguards they have in place. Also, check to see what DNS flood coverage your DNS provider provides.
Melina Richardson is a Cyber Security Enthusiast, Security Blogger, Technical Editor, Certified Ethical Hacker, Author at Cybers Guards & w-se. Previously, he worked as a security news reporter.