Protect Your Website: How to Prevent DDoS Attacks
A Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack inundates a network, service, or server with bogus traffic to overload the system, resulting in a slowdown or crash. Cybercriminals use this tactic to disrupt services or communication, harm a brand’s reputation, gain a competitive advantage, or distract the incident response team. DDoS attacks can affect businesses of all sizes, with online retailers, IT service providers, financial and fintech companies, government entities, and online gaming and gambling firms being common targets.
To execute a DDoS, attackers rely on a botnet, a network of malware-infected devices that the attacker controls. These devices, known as “zombies,” inundate a target’s website or server’s IP address with an excessive number of requests until the online services slow down or fail. A DDoS attack’s duration can range from an hour to a month, depending on the attacker’s intention.
While a DDoS attack does not directly lead to data breaches or leaks, its consequences can be detrimental to the victim’s business. Getting services back online can be time-consuming and expensive, leading to loss of business, abandoned shopping carts, frustrated users, and reputational harm.
How does a DDoS attack work?
A DDoS attack operates through networks of Internet-connected machines, including computers and IoT devices, that have been infected with malware and can be controlled remotely by an attacker. These individual devices are known as bots, while a group of bots forms a botnet.
Once a botnet is established, the attacker can remotely command each bot to launch an attack against a victim’s server or network. The bots flood the target’s IP address with requests, potentially causing the server or network to become overwhelmed and resulting in a denial of service to normal traffic.
The attack traffic is difficult to distinguish from normal traffic because each bot is a legitimate Internet device, adding to the challenge of mitigating a DDoS attack.
How to spot a ddos attack
The primary indication of a DDoS attack is when a website or service suddenly becomes slow or inaccessible. However, further investigation is necessary since other factors can cause similar performance issues. Traffic analytics tools can help identify some of the typical signs of a DDoS attack, such as:
- Suspiciously high traffic volumes originating from a single IP address or IP range
- A flood of traffic from users sharing a single behavioural profile, such as device type, geolocation, or web browser version
- An unexplained surge in requests to a specific page or endpoint
- Unusual traffic patterns, such as spikes at odd hours or patterns that appear unnatural (e.g., a spike every 10 minutes)
Types of DDoS Attacks
DDoS attacks aim to overwhelm a system with too much activity, but hackers have different strategies to achieve this goal. The three main types of DDoS attacks are volumetric, protocol, and application-layer attacks.
Application-layer attacks target specific apps, exhausting a target server’s ability to respond by generating many HTTP requests. Protocol attacks exploit weaknesses in the protocols that govern internet communications, slowing down the entire network. Volumetric attacks consume a target’s available bandwidth with false data requests, blocking legitimate users from accessing services and creating network congestion.
The two most common types of protocol-based DDoS attacks are SYN floods and Smurf DDoS. Volumetric attacks rely on botnets and are the most common type of DDoS. The most common types of volumetric attacks are UDP floods, DNS amplification, and ICMP floods.
How to Prevent DDoS Attacks
To prepare for a DDoS attack, you will need to develop an incident response plan that outlines clear, step-by-step instructions for staff members to respond promptly and effectively. This plan should cover maintaining business operations, identifying go-to staff members and key stakeholders, establishing escalation protocols, defining team responsibilities, creating a checklist of necessary tools, and identifying mission-critical systems.
Network security is also critical for stopping any DDoS attack attempt. The ability to detect and respond to a DDoS early on is vital in minimising the impact. To protect your business from DDoS attempts, you can rely on various types of network security, such as firewalls and intrusion detection systems, anti-virus and anti-malware software, endpoint security, web security tools, tools that prevent spoofing, and network segmentation.
It’s also essential to prepare your hardware, such as routers, load-balancers, Domain Name Systems (DNS), etc., for traffic spikes that may occur during an attack.
Implementing server redundancy can make it difficult for a hacker to take down all servers simultaneously in a DDoS attack. By distributing servers across multiple locations, if one server is targeted and goes offline, others can take on the additional traffic until the targeted server is back online. Using a content delivery network (CDN) can also help distribute traffic across multiple servers to prevent overload.
To avoid network bottlenecks and single points of failure, it’s recommended to host servers in different data centres. Additionally, it’s important to monitor for warning signs of a DDoS attack to quickly take action to mitigate damage. Some common signs include poor connectivity, slow performance, high demand for a single page or endpoint, crashes, unusual traffic from a single or small group of IP addresses, and a spike in traffic from users with a common profile.
It’s worth noting that not all DDoS attacks involve high traffic volume. Low-volume attacks with short durations can often go unnoticed and may even be used as a test or diversion for a more significant breach. Therefore, it’s important to educate all staff members on the signs of a DDoS attack through security awareness training. This way, anyone can recognise and report potential attacks, and the security team can quickly respond.
Limiting network broadcasting between devices is important to mitigate the impact of a DDoS attack. A hacker may send requests to every device on your network, amplifying the impact of the attack. This can be countered by disabling or limiting broadcast forwarding.
In addition to on-prem hardware and software, leveraging cloud-based mitigation can be an effective solution for preventing DDoS attacks. Cloud providers offer well-rounded cybersecurity with top firewalls, threat monitoring software like Advanced Threat Protection, and greater bandwidth than private networks. Data centres also provide high network redundancy with copies of data, systems, and equipment.
There are two options for cloud-based DDoS protection: on-demand cloud DDoS mitigation and always-on cloud DDoS protection. On-demand services activate after a threat is detected, while always-on services route all traffic through a cloud scrubbing centre. Always-on protection is best for mission-critical apps that cannot afford downtime.