Just picture this for a moment: A massive DDoS attack strikes your website. Your website remains inaccessible for a couple of hours. Your business comes to a halt and you end up losing a significant chunk of business. Add to it the legal and financial repercussions you have to deal with later. Sounds terrifying, doesn’t it?
DDoS attacks affect millions of websites each year and, surprisingly, are quite easy to carry out. If you are a successful online business, your chances of being the victim of any such attack are quite high.
Is there is a way to prevent all this and protect your website from unwarranted intrusion? There definitely is. And that’s what this post is all about. If you are interested in understanding what exactly a DDoS is and how you can mitigate their impact, keep reading.
DDoS stands for distributed denial of service. In a DDoS attack, a website is inundated with requests within a short time, with the intention of making it inaccessible to regular users, causing it to crash. In comparison to a DoS attack that emanates from a single source, a ‘distributed’ attack is implemented using the processing power of multiple computers.
This simply means, if your site undergoes any such attack, you will receive hundreds of requests from many different locations over a period of several minutes or even hours. These requests won’t be the result of regular visitors flocking to your site. In case of DDoS, they will come from a limited number of sources and will be automated.
It’s essential to understand the distinction between a DDoS attack and hacking. While the two have been found to be linked in many instances, they are not one and the same.
The aim of a DDoS attack is to overwhelm your site with requests to make it stop working. In contrast, a hacking attack aims to access your website’s files and data.
Now, before we dwell on DDoS protection measures, let’s discuss the common types of DDoS attacks.
Volumetric Attacks: These comprise over 50% of the attacks launched and focus is on filling up the target site’s network bandwidth with false requests. As all the available ports get saturated with data, the server has no room to deal with legitimate traffic.
Protocol Attacks: This kind of attack exploits either the resources of the server or that of the intermediate communication equipment (e.g. load balancers or firewalls)
Application Attacks: Regarded as the most sophisticated kind of attack, these exploit weaknesses in the application layer and crash the web server.
It’s vital to keep in mind that in real-life scenarios, criminals mix and match these kinds of attacks in order to hit the site from many different fronts.
DDoS attacks have grown exponentially over the last couple of years and show no signs of slowing down in the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, most of us come to know about any such attack only when it affects our own website.
Most of these attacks are quite sophisticated in nature and target data, applications and infrastructure all at once in order to improve the odds of success. To combat these attacks, you need to have a fool-proof strategy that offers protection at all levels.
Keeping your network architecture secure is critical to mitigating DDoS attacks. By augmenting your network architecture, you can not only minimise the occurrence of attacks but also ensure the continuity of your operations under all conditions.
Dispersing your assets will make it difficult for the criminals to pull off a successful attack. This can be accomplished by locating your servers in different data centers, each of which should be on a different network.
The networks these data centers are connected to should not have a single point of failure. Spreading out your resources ensures resilience in event of an attack.
It is essential to deploy hardware resources that can deal with the known DDoS attacks and shield your network from criminals.
Several types of DDoS have been in existence for a long time, so we have hardware options out there that can lessen their impact. For instance, many commercially available web application firewalls, network firewalls and load balancers can offer protection against application and protocol attacks discussed above.
Organisations can also choose appliances specifically meant for DDoS mitigation. (e.g. perimeter DDoS mitigation devices)
In a bid to ward off volumetric attacks, some organisations simply scale up their bandwidth in order to absorb the large volume of incoming traffic, if needed.
Of course, not many are willing to pay for the bandwidth required to combat large-scale attacks. Needless to say, this option is primarily meant for large organisations that have the budget to pay for additional bandwidth.
These days we have many vendors that can scale your infrastructure in response to an attack. Many of these offer cloud scrubbing services to remove a large chunk of malicious traffic before it hits your website.
Several internet services providers (ISPs) have a specialised product to combat DDoS. Even the ones that don’t have such a product in place can enlighten you on the aid they can offer in case your site gets affected.
In addition, we have vendors that work specifically in the area of DDoS prevention. So, whenever an attack occurs, the malicious requests are rerouted to the mitigation centre and scrubbed.
All the legit traffic is then forwarded to the client website. These providers typically have load balancers that can respond to the high levels of traffic characteristic of DDoS.
Early detection of warning signs is one of the most effective ways to ensure DDoS protection. An unusual slowing down of your network performance, intermittent shutting down of your site or spike in the number of spam emails can be a sign of intrusion. These should be taken care of as soon as they are noticed, even when they appear trivial at first glance.
Even when you take all possible measures to defend yourself, you are likely to fall prey to a DDoS attack at one point or the other. Here’s what to do when DDoS hits your site.
As most of the DDoS attacks start with a sharp surge in website traffic, it’s vital that you understand the distinction between a rise in legitimate traffic and a DDoS attack. If you are familiar with what your typical web traffic looks like, you’ll be able to identify the attack early on.
To deal with the attack effectively, notify your service provider as early as possible. Depending on whether you have purchased services from an internet service provider or a web hosting provider, different measures will be activated. While an ISP may reduce the amount of illegitimate traffic reaching your site, your web host may scale up your service.
Try to limit the number of concurrent application connections through rate limiting. While this method stops legit traffic too, it will definitely bring in some respite.
Dedicated DDoS protection tools such as a cloud-based scrubbing service or a hardware appliance in your data center can offer effective protection in such cases.
Tracking the progression of the attack will help you refine your defence mechanism.
Things to monitor during the attack:
As your defences are being deployed, it is important to measure their effectiveness. Find if these defences are working or have been rendered ineffective in face of the attack. If the mitigation measures are not as per your expectation, consider bringing in a new service provider.
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Ready to take a step towards ensuring business continuity? If so, connect with our hosting experts and learn more about DDoS protection services.
Thanks for reading!