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What is DDoS Protection?
DDoS protection is a service offered by some hosting providers, internet service providers, and internet infrastructure companies to combat the effects of a DDoS attack. The result of effective DDoS protection is that your website is less likely to go down when under attack and your website visitors are less likely to be affected by poor website performance during an attack.
What is a DDoS Attack?
DDoS stands for "distributed denial-of-service." A DDoS attack occurs when a network of computers is used to send a large volume of requests to a web server simultaneously. The web server's resources are maxed out by the requests and legitimate website visitors are unable to access the website.
It might be easier to understand DDoS by way of analogy. Think of a web server as a store. If a large group of people wanted to block access to the store they could do so by all walking into the store at the same time clogging up the entries and walkways in the process, thereby preventing legitimate customers from being able to access the store.
This is what a DDoS attack does. It sends a large volume of bogus traffic to a web server using up of the server's resources so that legitimate traffic is unable to access the server.
DDoS attacks that are carried out continuously for an extended period of time can shut down a web server and any websites or services that rely on that server.
How are DDoS Attacks Carried Out?
It is usually the case that the computers sending requests in a DDoS attack do so without the knowledge of the computer's owner. DDoS attacks are usually carried out using a botnet: a network of computers infected with a malicious Trojan horse that allows the author of the malware to use the computer to send out specific internet transmissions.
The way the process works is this:
- A computer user accesses the internet without adequate security measure in place and their computer is infected with a Trojan horse.
- This happens to many people and the Trojan horse is installed on a large number of computers.
- The botnet controller, quite often the creator of the Trojan horse, activates the botnet remotely and all of the infected internet-connected computers begin to follow instructions provided by botnet controller.
In this way, a single botnet controller can cause thousands of computers to simultaneously and continuously attempt to access a specific website or online service. The result is that the server hosting the website, the domain name server hosting the domain name, or the web server hosting the service is overwhelmed and begins to reject requests. When legitimate traffic tries to access the same resources, it can't because all server resources are busy handling bogus traffic.
How Common are DDoS attacks?
Unfortunately, DDoS attacks are quite common. While a small website is unlikely to be targeted in a DDoS attack, large, successful websites are targeted with alarming regularity. In 2015, Verizon found that more than half of all financial institutions had been on the receiving end of this sort of coordinated attack. There are even cyber criminal organizations that specialize in initiating this sort of attack and then demanding a ransom payment be made to stop the attack.
While a small website may not be targeted by a DDoS attack, if the website is part of the same network as a larger website that is under attack, they can still see the effects of the attack. For this reason, webmasters who run relatively low-traffic sites can still benefit from picking a hosting provider that offers robust DDoS protection.
How are DDoS Attacks Mitigated?
Defending against a DDoS attack requires a few different steps:
- The attack has to be detected.
- Traffic has to be identified as either legitimate or part of the detected DDoS attack.
- Measures must be put in place to deny attack traffic while allowing legitimate traffic access to the requested server resources.
There are a variety of techniques hosts deploy to detect attacks, classify traffic, and deal with illegitimate requests. The simplest technique is to deploy a firewall to block traffic originating from specific IP addresses or based on other traffic signatures. However, this tactic is not usually powerful enough to block sophisticated attacks, and in such cases more advanced blocking strategies are necessary.
More advanced techniques include intrusion-prevention systems (IPS), DoS defense systems (DDS), traffic filtering, and many others.
DDoS Protection Hosting Frequently Asked Questions
Can a free Cloudflare account help with DDoS?
The free Cloudflare plan includes the ability to activate "I'm Under Attack" mode. If your site is under DDoS attack, activating this mode will help block much of the illegitimate traffic while letting through real visitors.
Can a DDoS attack cause lasting damage?
In most cases, the effects of a DDoS attack are temporary. However, a subset of DDoS attacks called Permanent DoS (PDoS) attacks involve attacking known firmware vulnerabilities and damaging it or replacing it with malicious software. The result is that the affected piece of hardware is rendered unusable until it is repaired or replaced.
Should I pay a DDoS ransom?
If you ever find yourself facing a DDoS attack coupled with a ransom demand most internet security experts advise against paying the ransom. If you do pay it, you can expect a short-lived reprieve followed by a renewed attack and another demand of payment. The best thing to do when facing an attack is to find partners, such as your hosting provider, who can help you fend off the attack.
How do cybercriminals get access to a botnet?
Believe it or not, you can actually rent access to a botnet. Some botnet controllers will gladly use their botnet to initiate attacks on behalf of paying customers. As a result, cyber criminals don't have to create a botnet to gain the use of one.