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DDoS explained: How distributed denial of service attacks are evolving

by George V. Hulme

What is a DDoS attack?

A distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack is when an attacker, or attackers, attempt to make it impossible for a service to be delivered. This can be achieved by thwarting access to virtually anything: servers, devices, services, networks, applications, and even specific transactions within applications. In a DoS attack, it’s one system that is sending the malicious data or requests; a DDoS attack comes from multiple systems.

Generally, these attacks work by drowning a system with requests for data. This could be sending a web server so many requests to serve a page that it crashes under the demand, or it could be a database being hit with a high volume of queries. The result is available internet bandwidth, CPU and RAM capacity becomes overwhelmed.

The impact could range from a minor annoyance from disrupted services to experiencing entire websites, applications, or even entire business taken offline.

Related video: Early warning signs of a DDoS attack

3 types of DDoS attacks

There are three primary classes of DDoS attacks:

  1. Volume-based attacks use massive amounts of bogus traffic to overwhelm a resource such as a website or server. They include ICMP, UDP and spoofed-packet flood attacks. The size of a volume-based attack is measured in bits per second (bps).
  2. Protocol or network-layer DDoS attacks send large numbers of packets to targeted network infrastructures and infrastructure management tools. These protocol attacks include SYN floods and Smurf DDoS, among others, and their size is measured in packets per second (PPS).
  3. Application-layer attacks are conducted by flooding applications with maliciously crafted requests. The size of application-layer attacks is measured in requests per second (RPS).

For each type of attack, the goal is always the same: Make online resources sluggish or completely unresponsive.

DDoS attack symptoms

DDoS attacks can look like many of the non-malicious things that can cause availability issues – such as a downed server or system, too many legitimate requests from legitimate users, or even a cut cable. It often requires traffic analysis to determine what is precisely occurring.

A DDoS attack timeline

It was an attack that would forever change how denial-of-service attacks would be viewed. In early 2000, Canadian high school student Michael Calce, a.k.a. MafiaBoy, whacked Yahoo! with a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack that managed to shut down one of the leading web powerhouses of the time. Over the course of the week that followed, Calce took aim, and successfully disrupted, other such sites as Amazon, CNN and eBay.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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