Understanding DDoS Attacks: Types, Examples, and Prevention Strategies

In today's rapidly changing landscape of cybersecurity threats, Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks are considered as a formidable challenge for organizations worldwide. These attacks aim to overwhelm a system's resources, rendering it unable to handle legitimate requests and ultimately causing disruptions that can lead to significant financial and reputational damage.

What is a DDoS Attack?

A DDoS attack involves multiple compromised computer systems attacking a single target, such as a server or network, thereby causing denial of service for users of the targeted resource. Unlike a Denial of Service (DoS) attack, which uses one computer connected to the internet to flood a target with packets, a DDoS attack utilizes multiple devices and connections. These attacks can be devastating due to the sheer volume of devices involved.

Types of DDoS Attacks

Here are some of the known types of DDoS attacks

Volume-Based Attacks: These are the most common forms of DDoS attacks. They aim to saturate the bandwidth of the attacked site and are measured in bits per second (bps). Some examples are User Datagram Protocol (UDP) floods and Internet Control Message Protocol (ICMP) floods. 

Protocol Attacks: Measured in terms of packets per second (pps), protocol attacks deplete the actual server resources and the resources of intermediary communication devices like firewalls and load balancers. SYN floods (half-open attack), fragmented packet attacks, and Ping of Death are examples of Protocol Attacks. 

Application Layer Attacks: These attacks target the top layer of the Open Systems Interconnection model. This layer generates web pages on the server and delivers them in response to HTTP requests. These attacks are usually measured in requests per second (rps) and include various types, such as low-and-slow attacks, GET/POST floods, and attacks that exploit vulnerabilities in Apache, Windows, or OpenBSD.

Recent DDoS Attack Examples

2022 attack on financial institutions: Several banks in the United States faced volumetric DDoS attacks, which attempted to cripple financial services by overwhelming their websites with traffic far beyond their capacity to handle.

2023 gaming industry attack: A major gaming platform experienced a series of sophisticated application layer attacks during the launch of a highly anticipated game, causing prolonged downtime and user access issues.

Are DDoS attacks on the rise?

Yes, they are. As per several recent reports, there is about a 12% to 15% rise in such attacks recorded in the 2nd half of 2023 compared to the 1st of 2023. 

How to Prevent DDoS Attacks

Preventing DDoS attacks requires a multi-layered approach:

Increase Network Resilience: Distribute traffic evenly across multiple servers using diversified server locations, load balancing, and robust content delivery network (CDN) services. Implement Advanced Threat Detection Systems: Deploy a real-time monitoring/anomaly detection systems to identify unusual traffic flows and potential threats before they cause damage.

Deploy Anti-DDoS Hardware and Software Solutions: Invest in specialized DDoS protection solutions that can absorb and mitigate large-scale traffic influxes.

Create a Response Plan: Establish a comprehensive incident response strategy with predefined actions for different DDoS attacks. You must regularly update and test this plan to ensure its effectiveness.

Collaborate with Your ISP: Your Internet Service Provider can be a crucial ally in defending against DDoS attacks, as they can provide additional routing, filtering, and traffic shaping solutions.

Educate and Train Staff: Regular training sessions for your IT team can help them stay updated on the latest DDoS tactics and countermeasures.

With the frequency of DDoS attacks growing, organizations need to stay alert and implement robust cybersecurity measures to thwart such incidents. By understanding the nature of these attacks and implementing comprehensive prevention strategies, businesses can safeguard themselves against the potentially devastating impacts of DDoS disruptions.