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What is a DDoS attack?

What is a DDoS attack?

With the rapid growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) and the increasing number of remote workers, the number of connected devices is soaring. Safeguarding your network against distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks is absolutely crucial in this interconnected world. This blog aims to delve into the concept of DDoS attacks, various types, and the potential ramifications they can have. 

Table of Contents:

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What is a DDoS Attack?

A DDoS attack, also referred to as a Distributed Denial of Service attack, is a malicious attempt to disrupt the normal functioning of a computer network, service, or website by overwhelming it with a flood of internet traffic. DDoS attacks are a significant threat to businesses of all sizes. They can be costly and damaging, with long-term effects on a business’s reputation and revenue. 

In a DDoS attack, the attacker uses multiple compromised devices, or “bots” to send a massive amount of traffic to the targeted server or network. This flood of traffic overwhelms the targeted system, making it inaccessible to legitimate users.

Why Do Hackers Launch DDoS Attacks? Top Reasons

A distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack is a cyber-attack in which multiple compromised computer systems are used to flood a targeted server or network with a large amount of traffic, making it unavailable to legitimate users.

There are many reasons why hackers launch DDoS attacks. Here are the top reasons:

  • To disrupt or disable a website or online service. This can be done to prevent users from accessing the website or service or to damage the reputation of the organization that owns it.
  • To extort money. Hackers may threaten to launch a DDoS attack against a website unless the owners pay a ransom.
  • To steal data. A DDoS attack can be used to overwhelm a network and make it easier for hackers to steal data.
  • To launch a cyberattack. A DDoS attack can be used as a distraction or diversion while hackers launch other attacks, such as a data breach or a ransomware attack.
  • To express political or ideological views. Hackers may launch DDoS attacks against websites or organizations that they disagree with.
  • To simply cause chaos. Some hackers launch DDoS attacks for the sheer fun of it.
  • To test a network’s security. Hackers may launch a small DDoS attack to test a network’s security and see how it responds.

No matter the reason, DDoS attacks can have a significant impact on businesses and organizations. They can disrupt operations, damage reputations, and cost millions of dollars in lost revenue.

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How Does a DDoS Attack Work?

DDoS attacks work by exploiting the limitations of a server’s or network’s resources. By sending more traffic than the system can handle, the attacker can overload the system and cause it to crash or become unresponsive.

DDoS attackers commonly employ botnets, which are networks of compromised devices infected with malware and remotely controlled by the attacker. By leveraging the botnet’s capabilities, the attacker can unleash a substantial volume of traffic on the target server or network, resulting in significant disruptions or even rendering the system inaccessible to legitimate users.

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Types of DDoS Attacks

There are various forms of DDoS attacks, encompassing:

Types of DDoS Attacks
  • Volumetric Attacks

The most prevalent form of DDoS attacks is volumetric attacks, which seek to inundate the targeted system’s bandwidth by inundating it with an enormous influx of traffic. These attacks employ botnets to generate a substantial volume of traffic, thereby straining the targeted system’s capacity to handle the influx effectively.

  • Application Layer Attacks

Application layer attacks, also referred to as Layer 7 attacks, are specifically crafted to target the application layer of a website or server. Their objective is to exploit weaknesses within the application layer, such as vulnerabilities in web applications, in order to disrupt or compromise the targeted system.

Application layer attacks are more sophisticated than volumetric attacks as they target specific vulnerabilities in the system. Examples of application layer attacks include HTTP floods, which send multiple HTTP requests to a website to overwhelm the server, and Slowloris attacks, which send incomplete requests to a server to keep the connection open and exhaust the server’s resources.

  • Protocol Attacks

Protocol attacks target the network layer of a website or server. These attacks aim to exploit vulnerabilities in the network protocols used by the system, such as TCP/IP. Protocol attacks can disrupt the normal functioning of the system by exhausting its resources.

Examples of protocol attacks include SYN floods, which exploit a vulnerability in the TCP/IP protocol, and UDP floods, which exploit a vulnerability in the UDP protocol.

  • Hybrid Attacks

Hybrid attacks are a combination of volumetric, application layer, and protocol attacks. These attacks aim to overwhelm the target system by combining different types of attacks. Hybrid attacks are more challenging to detect and mitigate as they use multiple attack vectors.

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DDoS Attack Tools

Let us explore the various tools that are commonly used for DDoS attacks:

  • LOIC (Low Orbit Ion Cannon): It is an open-source tool that empowers users to inundate targeted websites with a significant volume of traffic, potentially resulting in service disruption.
  • HOIC (High Orbit Ion Cannon): HOIC (High Orbit Ion Cannon), similar to LOIC, is a Windows-based tool utilized for launching DDoS attacks by sending HTTP requests to the intended server.
  • XOIC (XerXes/Oxidized Ion Cannon): It is specifically crafted to overload targeted websites with TCP/IP requests, depleting their resources and inducing downtime.
  • Slowloris: Slowloris takes advantage of a vulnerability present in web servers by establishing multiple slow HTTP connections, gradually draining server resources until it reaches a point of unresponsiveness. This method differs from overwhelming the target with a sudden surge of high-volume traffic.
  • Botnets: Botnets represent networks of compromised computers or devices under the control of an attacker, enabling them to orchestrate potent DDoS attacks by coordinating traffic from multiple sources.

Potential Consequences of a DDoS Attack

A DDoS attack can result in several possible consequences, including the following:

Financial Losses

DDoS assaults can cause firms to suffer large financial losses. Customers cannot access the company’s goods or services while a website or network is down, which results in lost sales. DDoS attacks can result in extra expenses as well, including the hiring of IT specialists to lessen the impact of the attack and strengthen the system’s security to fend off further attacks.

Reputational Damage

DDoS attacks can damage a business’s reputation, particularly if the attack is prolonged or results in data breaches. Customers may lose trust in the business’s ability to protect their data, resulting in long-term reputational damage.

Legal Consequences

DDoS assaults sometimes have legal repercussions for businesses. Businesses may be held accountable for damages if the assault leads to data breaches or other problems. Additionally, failure to protect the data of customers may result in regulatory sanctions for organizations.

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How to Prevent DDoS Attacks?

DDoS attack prevention requires implementing various measures to mitigate and protect against malicious traffic.

Here are some effective strategies to consider:

  • Increase Network Bandwidth: Ensure your network has enough bandwidth to handle sudden spikes in traffic. It can help absorb the impact of DDoS attacks by distributing the load across a larger capacity.
  • Implement Traffic Monitoring and Anomaly Detection: Deploy network monitoring tools and intrusion detection systems (IDS) to identify unusual patterns and behaviors. It allows for early detection and proactive response to potential DDoS attacks.
  • Utilize Firewalls and Routers: Configure firewalls and routers to filter and block suspicious traffic. Use access control lists (ACLs) to restrict traffic from known malicious IP addresses or implement rate limiting to prevent overwhelming the network.
  • Employ Load Balancers: Implement load balancers to distribute incoming traffic across multiple servers. It helps prevent a single server from becoming overwhelmed and ensures that traffic is evenly distributed.
  • Deploy Content Delivery Networks (CDNs): CDNs cache and distribute content across multiple servers, improving the resilience of your network against DDoS attacks. By serving content from geographically distributed locations, CDNs can absorb significant attack traffic.
  • Enable DDoS Mitigation Services: Engage with DDoS mitigation service providers specializing in detecting and mitigating DDoS attacks. These services can help filter and block malicious traffic, allowing legitimate traffic to reach your network.
  • Use Rate Limiting and CAPTCHA: Implement rate-limiting mechanisms to restrict the requests an individual user or IP address can make within a specified timeframe. Additionally, use CAPTCHA (Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart) to differentiate between human users and automated bots.
  • Regularly Update and Patch Systems: Keep your network infrastructure and software up to date with the latest security patches. It helps protect against known vulnerabilities attackers may exploit to launch DDoS attacks.
  • Educate Staff and Users: Provide awareness training to employees and users about DDoS attacks and the importance of following security best practices. It includes recognizing and reporting suspicious activities, practicing good password hygiene, and avoiding clicking on suspicious links or downloading unknown files.

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Examples of DDoS Attacks

Below we will highlight some real examples of DDoS attacks:

  • PlayStation Network (2014):

In 2014, the PlayStation Network (PSN) experienced a major DDoS attack during the holiday season. The attack rendered the online gaming platform inaccessible to millions of users worldwide for several days. This incident highlighted the vulnerability of gaming networks to DDoS attacks and the impact they can have on the gaming community.

  • Twitter DDoS Attack (2016):

In 2016, Twitter experienced a DDoS attack that disrupted access to the platform for a brief period. The attack was part of a larger campaign targeting multiple social media platforms. It served as a reminder of high-profile websites’ potential vulnerability and reliance on continuous availability.

  • GitHub DDoS Attack (2018):

In 2018, a famous code repository and collaboration platform, GitHub, experienced a significant DDoS attack. The attack utilized Memcached amplification, where attackers exploited misconfigured Memcached servers to generate a large volume of traffic directed toward GitHub. The attack temporarily disrupted access to the platform for a short period.

Conclusion

The scope of DDoS attacks is likely to evolve as attackers continually develop new techniques and exploit emerging vulnerabilities. It is essential for businesses and security professionals to stay vigilant and proactive in understanding the evolving landscape of DDoS attacks. By staying updated on advancements, and implementing strong defense strategies, organizations can enhance the protection of their assets and effectively minimize the potential impact of DDoS attacks within the dynamic landscape of cybersecurity.

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About the Author

Technical Lead - AWS Solutions Architect

Shivanshu is a Technical Lead and AWS Solutions Architect passionate about utilizing Cloud technology to empower businesses. Proficient in AWS, Terraform, and GCP, he crafts innovative solutions to propel companies forward. As an enthusiastic writer, he shares his expertise to inspire others in this field.