How DDoS Attacks Work And How to Prevent Damage to Your Website

A DDoS attack can annihilate your website’s foundation. It can crash, go offline, and fail to meet users’ expectations.

That’s why you must take steps to prevent future attacks from happening.

A DDoS or distributed denial-of-service attack involves an enormous volume of traffic directed at a specific website with malicious intent. The goal is to overload the web servers so they can’t handle the traffic. This can cause the website to crash and go offline and even corrupt its content, adversely affecting its ability to meet legitimate user requests.

In this article, we will cover:

Let’s get started!

What Is a DDoS Attack?

As mentioned above, when a DDoS attack happens, a large volume of fake traffic is sent to a website in an attempt to weaken its host servers until it crashes. The site under attack typically crashes because the increased traffic exhausts the bandwidth limit or overloads the website’s servers.

There are a couple of types of DDoS attacks you should be familiar with.

The first type occurs when traffic is directed at the entire website. This is meant to shut down the website and prevent it from functioning normally, and they’re also called volumetric attacks. A very similar type to this is called application-layer attacks, and their target is the application layer of a website or network.

The second type involves the attacker directing the traffic to specific parts of the website or targeting a hosted application. These are mostly known as distributed reflective denial-of-service attacks.

A protocol attack focuses on network infrastructure equipment like firewalls, load balancers, and application servers. These attacks exploit vulnerabilities in the communication protocols used by these devices.

The important thing to note is that both kinds of attacks use a large, unexpected increase in traffic to overwhelm the website’s bandwidth and server capacity, with the goal of either total website shut-down or disabling specific functionality.

Bad guys mostly use botnets to send a bunch of traffic to a certain website or infrastructure. It’s a common way to pull off those kinds of attacks. Keep in mind that some attackers may also use a single computer system for their attacks; an attack mostly known as a DoS attack.

So What Is a DoS Attack, Then?

Now from all this terminology, you might wonder what a DoS attack is and how it differs from the DDoS we’re referring to in this article.

In a DoS or denial-of-service attack, a single device or computer sends many requests to a server or website, overwhelming its resources and causing it to slow down or crash.

On the other hand, a DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack is similar to a DoS attack, but it involves multiple devices or computers, often controlled by a botnet, to flood a website or network with traffic or requests.

In a DDoS attack, the attackers use multiple devices from different geographic locations to launch the attack, making it much more difficult to mitigate than a DoS attack.

Learn how and why do DDoS attacks happen

Is DDoS Attack a Crime?

Simply put: yes, it is.

It’s considered a crime in many countries because it involves intentionally disrupting the normal operation of a website or network, causing damage and harm to the target and its users. Launching a DDoS attack is a well-known cyber attack that still occurs frequently.

In addition to legal consequences, a DDoS attack can also cause significant financial losses, reputational damage, and disruption to business operations for the target and its customers.

Therefore, organizations need to take proactive measures to prevent or mitigate DDoS attacks, such as implementing robust security measures, monitoring network traffic, and using specialized services and technologies to detect and block malicious traffic.

How and Why Do DDoS Attacks Happen?

There are a lot of hackers with malicious intent that want to break your website. They use a variety of ways to initiate attacks, including the following:

  • Asymmetric traffic attacks, where a website receives a high volume of fake user requests intended to over-consume server resources.
  • Targeted traffic attacks that increase the load on a hosted application, causing it to fail.
  • Multi-level attacks target both the website and the hosted application simultaneously until both crash.

Hackers generate illegitimate traffic from multiple IP addresses, so it’s tough for the victims of DDoS attacks to detect the source.

But why do DDoS attacks happen?

Hackers engage in DDoS attacks for several reasons. For instance, a competitor may want to attack your website to harm your business. A hacker may want to attack your site to extract personal and business data.

If you sell goods and services through your website, a DDoS attack can stop you from serving customers or making sales. That can cost your business time and money and even damage its reputation.

Another thing that adds to global DDoS attacks is the fact that people use blackmail and ransomware tactics pretty often.

Preventing a DDoS attack is far better than overcoming the consequences of one.

How to Identify Your Site or Network is Under a DDoS Attack

A typical DDoS attack has a few signs. First, you can spot a sudden decrease in your site or service performance. However, looking into what’s causing problems is also essential. Maybe too many people are trying to visit your site at once, or your site is taking too long to load. No one likes a slow-loading website, after all!

You can use traffic analytics tools to spot whether your site or network is under a DDoS attack. These tools can help you spot some telltale signs of a DDoS attack, such as:

  • Suspicious amounts of traffic originating from a single IP address or IP range: A DDoS attack typically involves multiple devices, often from different geographic locations, flooding your site or network with traffic. However, if you notice significant traffic coming from a single IP address or IP range, it could indicate a DDoS attack.
  • A flood of traffic from users who share a single behavioural profile: If you notice a sudden surge in traffic from users who share a common behavioural profile, such as device type, geolocation, or web browser version, it could be a sign of a DDoS attack. As mentioned earlier, attackers often use bots to generate traffic, and these bots can be programmed to mimic the behaviour of legitimate users.
  • An unexplained surge in requests to a single page or endpoint: If you notice a sudden increase in traffic to a particular page or endpoint on your site or network, it could be a sign of a DDoS attack. Attackers often target specific pages or endpoints to overwhelm your system and make it unavailable to legitimate users.
  • Odd traffic patterns, such as spikes at odd hours of the day or patterns that appear to be unnatural: If you notice unusual traffic patterns, such as spikes in traffic at odd hours of the day or patterns that appear to be unnatural, it could be a sign of a DDoS attack. Attackers often launch attacks during off-hours to avoid detection, and the traffic generated by a DDoS attack can have a distinctive pattern that differs from legitimate traffic.

It’s worth noting that different types of DDoS attacks can have different signs. For example, if it’s a DNS amplification attack, you might notice more queries from made-up IP addresses. On the other hand, an SYN or flood attack could lead to incomplete TCP connections.

How Can You Prevent a DDoS Attack?

As frightening as DDoS attacks can be, the good news is they’re relatively easy to prevent. If you’re actively looking to prevent DDoS attacks on a website, then not all of the following tips apply since you rely on your web hosts’ infrastructure (hardware) for your website’s safety. A reliable and secure web host protects its server resources against all types of DDoS attacks.

But if it’s your business network that you’re concerned about, then the following section will answer many of your questions and give you plenty of insight to strengthen your network’s security.

Let’s get to the six ways to protect your infrastructure from a DDoS attack.

Invest in Good Network Hardware

Investing in high-quality network hardware can help you detect unexpected spikes in website traffic and even block them completely. Your network hardware includes all the components that help transmit data across a network, including your router, the cables you use to connect your systems, network switches, and interface cards.

Invest in Good Network Hardware for your website

If you invest in great equipment, you can configure your network hardware to prevent DDoS attacks. One way to do this is to modify your network firewall settings to ignore requests from outside your network. This approach can work well for enterprise applications used by internal staff members, keeping those applications up and running and safe from external users.

Investing in expensive network hardware can be very hard for a small business owner or website administrator. Moreover, people won’t always have the resources and skills to manage a private network hardware system.

Tip: We recommend using a managed hosting provider to take care of all the security for you.

Choose one that invests in great network hardware to secure your website. That way, you won’t have to bear the costs of purchasing and maintaining the expensive network infrastructure needed to support your website.

Know Your Infrastructure Well

Having a deep understanding of your network and systems, as well as their strengths and weaknesses is vital.

It’s crucial to take a good look at your whole setup and see if there are any weak spots in your security. That means making a list of all the connected devices, the apps you use, and any cloud services you’re connected to. It’s also worth checking out any third-party stuff you’re running. That way, we can ensure everything’s locked down, and you’re good to go.

This approach will help you find problems in your network traffic and notice if there are any DDoS attacks. You can then take proactive measures to mitigate the impact of such attacks, such as deploying traffic filters or redirecting traffic to a third-party scrubbing service (a data centre that analyzes all incoming internet traffic for potential malicious intent, which is discussed next).

Hire a DDoS Mitigation Service

Also known as DDoS mitigation services or scrubbing services, it’s another way to protect your infrastructure or your local website from all sorts of attacks. Their way of preventing attacks is to route all incoming traffic through a filter so that only genuine traffic hits your website or application.

Hiring a DDoS mitigation service makes sense if you’re susceptible to a large, complex DDoS attack. If you’re using a managed hosting service for your website, then hiring a separate DDoS mitigation service may not be needed, as your provider should offer their own service.

Preventing a DDoS attack is far better than overcoming the consequences of one

Eliminate Website Vulnerabilities

The best way to prevent a DDoS attack is to eliminate all vulnerabilities on your website. A site supported by a strong network and optimized web hosting is far less likely to be the victim of a successful attack.

If you use a WordPress website, regularly update the version you’re using so the software includes the latest safeguards against DDoS attacks. WordPress is easy to start with, but consider keeping all your plugins and themes also updated to eliminate any vulnerabilities.

Talk to your hosting provider about whether they regularly update their systems, software, and firewalls. You and your hosting provider share responsibility for protecting your site against DDoS attacks.

You can install plugins that stabilize and strengthen your website by intelligently managing all incoming traffic. Don’t install too many security plugins, and choose them very carefully.

While intended to protect your website, many plugins are vulnerable to attacks. Using high-quality prevention tools is important.

Use Web Application Firewalls and CDNs

A web application firewall is a great way to protect larger enterprise-level applications. A firewall can detect and prevent DDoS attacks by monitoring unusual spikes in traffic and blocking them. ModSecurity by Apache is a good plugin since it’s open source and was specifically designed for web applications. Regarding safeguarding your site, our Protection Power suite offers an additional layer of security and complete website monitoring designed to be proactive and keep your website secure.

Web Application Firewalls and CDNs

A content distribution network, or CDN, can balance out website traffic by spreading it across different servers located around the globe. If your website is hosted on a server in New York and on another server in Tokyo, for example, you’ve expanded your website’s presence on the internet, making it harder for attackers to launch a DDoS attack against you.

If an attacker’s job is to send a lot of fake traffic your way, then, as a site owner, your job is to detect and stop that unusual activity so you can reduce its impact. Using a CDN is a great way to do that.

Increase Internet Bandwidth and Server Capacity

Your website can crash or go offline after a DDoS attack because it can’t handle the traffic volume the attacker sends.

Buying additional bandwidth and enlarging your website’s server capacity are excellent ways to reduce the impact of a DDoS attack. If your website can handle one million users simultaneously, and a DDoS attack only sends 500,000 fake visitors, your site will continue to operate normally.

Buying more bandwidth and increasing your server capacity can also help you scale your business, as your website will be able to serve more customers and users.

Talk to your hosting service provider about upgrading your plan to one that gives you a larger web server capacity. The increased website capacity and enhanced DDoS protection will help you grow your business!

Stand Firm Against DDoS Attacks
Image credit: Best VPN Analysis

Conclusion: Stand Firm Against DDoS Attacks

Protecting your website from a DDoS attack can help you save a lot of time, money, and resources. Consistently backing up your website can ensure that you’ll be able to recover it if you do fall prey to an attack.

If you experience network layer attacks like IP spoofing, system hijacking or other relevant types of attacks, contact your internet service provider (ISP) and shut down any access to your systems until you figure out your next moves.

While taking the steps we’ve discussed can go a long way toward protecting your website, you should regularly monitor your site traffic.

More importantly, don’t lurk around online zones where hackers hang out! To avoid DDoS attacks, ignore suspicious requests sent to you through your website and be wary of unusual comments on your blog.

Did you find this blog interesting? Head to our HostPapa Blog to read more exciting topics like this one!

María is an enthusiast of cinema, literature and digital communication. As Content Coordinator at HostPapa, she focuses on the publication of content for the blog and social networks, organizing the translations, as well as writing and editing articles for the KB.

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