Understanding and Preventing DDoS Attacks: A Guide for Homeowners and Small Businesses

In today’s digital era, our lives are more interconnected than ever before. We rely heavily on the internet for almost every aspect of our daily lives, from smart thermostats controlling our AC to managing small businesses. However, this increasing dependence on technology has opened up the possibility of new threats and attacks that can disrupt our digital life.

One type of web-based attack you may have heard of is a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack. In this article, we will examine how DDoS attacks work, and look at what you can do to prevent these attacks.

Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS)

What is a Distributed Denial of Service Attack?

A Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack is a malicious attempt to disrupt the normal functioning of a network, service, or website by overwhelming it with a flood of internet traffic. As the target server becomes inundated with attack traffic, legitimate traffic struggles to reach its destination. In simpler terms, imagine servers as a secretary at a business. If an attacker wants to disrupt the business, they can simply flood the business with hundreds of calls, making it impossible for the secretary to route legitimate calls. Denial of service attacks work in much the same way, but instead of calls, they use a flood of digital data to clog servers with false requests, causing serious problems for those who rely on that network or service.
The good news is that these attacks are rarely directed at homeowners and instead usually target large servers and corporations. Recently, DDoS attacks have been used to take down Amazon Web Service (AWS), and government websites in Australia and Belgium.

However, oftentimes cybercriminals will try to infect your computer or network with malware in order to launch these attacks. Groups of compromised computers are known as botnets and may include hundreds of thousands or even millions of devices. While you may not be the target of the DoS attack itself, the malware may aggressively use your network resources, slowing down your internet connection. Further, compromised systems are vulnerable to other cyberattacks, including ransomware attacks.

How does a DDoS attack work?

DDoS attacks exploit the inherent open nature of the internet, overwhelming networks or servers with more traffic than they can handle. Hackers control a network of online machines, known as bots, to carry out these attacks. They infect these machines with malicious software, allowing them to remotely control the machines and use them to send traffic to a targeted site or server. The sheer number of requests, from potentially millions of machines, causes the server or network to slow down or even crash. Sometimes the goal of a DDoS attack is simply to take a website or service offline, but in many cases hackers use it as a form of extortion. The hackers will demand payment, or else the malicious traffic will continue for an indefinite period of time. Since the proliferation of work-from-home, DDoS attacks can be extremely debilitating even for small companies, as they prevent their employees from accessing network resources.

Identifying a DDoS attack

Typically, a DDoS attack manifests as a notable slowdown in network speed or a total outage of a website. However, it’s important to understand that not every network slowdown or outage is a result of a DDoS attack; they could also be caused by software bugs, hardware failures, or other technical issues. Network administrators and DDoS mitigation services often use advanced tools to monitor network traffic and identify unusual spikes in traffic that might suggest a DDoS attack.

Types of DDoS attacks

There are several types of DDoS attacks, but three of the most common types are: application layer attacks, protocol attacks, and volumetric attacks.

Application layer attacks aim to exhaust the resources of a server, often targeting web servers like APACHE and their applications. This type of attack can be tricky to detect because it appears as legitimate connection requests. These are the most common types of DDoS attack.

Protocol attacks, on the other hand, exploit vulnerabilities in a server’s resources, targeting the communication protocols necessary for the internet to function. Examples include Ping of Death attacks, SYN Floods, and Smurf attacks.

Lastly, volumetric attacks aim to overwhelm a network’s bandwidth by generating massive amounts of bogus traffic. Examples include UDP Flood attacks and ICMP Flood attacks. Volume based attacks are the least common form of DDoS but often make the news due to the large number of devices carrying out the attacks making for good headlines.

How To Avoid Becoming Part of a Botnet

While the sophistication of cyber threats is continually increasing, there are several steps you can take to ensure that your network isn’t contributing to a cyber attack.

Secure your router. Your router is the gateway to your network. Keeping it secure is essential for a strong defense. Change the default username and password, and ensure that your router firmware is regularly updated to protect against known vulnerabilities.

Change default passwords on all devices. More and more household devices connect to the internet these days, and many of these so-called Internet of Things devices come with default passwords that are easy to find online. Changing the default passwords of your internet connected devices to strong, unique ones can help secure your devices against being compromised and included in a botnet.

How to Avoid Falling Victim to a DDoS Attack

More and more small businesses are coming to rely on their web based resources and hackers are taking notice. Here are some network security strategies to reduce your exposure to DDoS attacks:

Create a Response Plan:

 Develop a DDoS response plan that outlines the steps to take when an attack is detected. This might include identifying key personnel, their responsibilities during an attack, and the process to follow to minimize damage.

Invest in Security Infrastructure:

Use firewalls and routers that can help to detect and filter out DDoS traffic. Although there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, choose hardware and software that fits your business needs and budget.

Regular Updates and Patches:

Keep all systems, software, and applications updated with the latest patches. Updates often include security enhancements and fixes for known vulnerabilities that attackers can exploit.

Employ Redundancy:

Redundancy, in the form of additional servers or bandwidth, can help absorb the influx of traffic during a DDoS attack. Distributed networks or cloud services can help distribute your traffic across multiple servers, reducing the impact of an attack.

Leverage DDoS Protection Services:

Consider using a DDoS protection service. These services can detect abnormal traffic flows in real-time and redirect malicious traffic away from your network. DDoS protection service providers can mitigate the impact of DDoS attacks and allow legitimate users to continue to have access to the network.

Keeping Cyber Criminals at Bay

The threat of DDoS attacks is real and growing, but with a clear understanding of how these attacks work and how to prevent them, homeowners and small businesses can significantly reduce their risk. By securing your router, changing default passwords on IoT devices, and utilizing comprehensive cybersecurity solutions, you can keep your networks running smoothly.
In our increasingly connected world, understanding and combating threats like DDoS attacks is not just a good idea —it’s a necessity.

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