I’m sure most anyone would agree that life without the internet would be unimaginable. We shop online, work, bank, learn, talk with family and friends, play games—we even visit the doctor online nowadays. It’s almost like we’re living in the matrix! We are plugged in—all the time. The downside to this is that cybercriminals can exploit our reliance on the Web. This is especially true for businesses. In this resource, I’ll be talking about one of the biggest “plagues” of the internet—DDoS attacks.
What is a DDoS attack? Let’s start with the name, which is actually a huge hint: Distributed denial-of-service. It’s a type of cyber threat that affects websites by exploiting the domain name system (DNS). A DDoS attack floods a network with fake traffic that overwhelms the network’s servers. This fake traffic is what’s called a botnet. Because such a large volume of traffic is hitting web servers at once, it prevents legitimate traffic from getting through—hence the name denial-of-service. Once a DDoS attack begins, it doesn’t take long for an entire network to crash and become inoperable.
A robot network (botnet) is the tool that carries out a distributed denial-of-service attack. This botnet is usually made up of thousands of hacked, remotely controlled computers. These hacked devices are also known as zombie computers. Talking about a nightmare of the living (computing) dead!
Tip: Computers and other IoT devices can be “zombies” without the owner’s knowledge. Luckily, there are signs of infection. Examples are random shutdowns, slow internet, suspicious pop-ups, or the inability to update an operating system.
A DDoS attack first starts with a hacker raising their horde of the computing dead—the botnet. Once assembled, the attacker unleashes the botnet and instructs it to swarm the target network. Each bot in the army then sends queries to the target’s IP address. This deluge of traffic causes network congestion—very much like a traffic jam. Each bot continues to query the target until the system overloads and shuts down.
One of the first major DDoS attacks was launched by a 15-year-old named Michael Calace (aka Mafiaboy) in February 2000. Calace hacked into several university networks and proceeded to use the hacked servers to take down major sites such as eBay, CNN, Yahoo, Dell, and Amazon.
Fun Fact: Today, Michael Calace aka Mafiaboy is a white hat hacker who helps organizations pinpoint security vulnerabilities in their network systems.
Since 2000, distributed denial-of-service attacks have only grown in popularity. Here are a few of the biggest attacks that shook up the tech world over the years:
Akamai – June 2021
Amazon Web Services (AWS) – February 2020
Blizzard (Europe) – October 2020
Dyn – October 2016
GitHub – February 2018
Microsoft Azure (suspected) – April 2021
NS1 – May 2016
Sony Playstation Network – April 2011
6 U.S. Banks Takedown – March 2012
Did you know: Routers provided by internet service providers (ISPs) can also be hacked? This can lead to a “zombie infection” for any smart devices connected to your network. Your fridge might very well have helped bring down one of your favorite websites!
Any business could be a victim of a distributed denial-of-service attack. Since DDoS attacks exploit the domain name system by creating massive query surges, redundancy is crucial. Without preventive measures in place, systems can easily be overrun by a botnet. Simple DNS techniques can thwart such attacks and keep your website from going dark.
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