DDoS Attacks – Overloading Websites with Requests

DDoS Attacks
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Summary: What is a DDoS attack

DDoS attacks are launched with the help of a botnet. This network of sleeper cells can be prompted to visit a certain website at the same time. This can cause a website to slow down severely or even shut down completely.

Hackers perform these attacks out of revenge, for money gain, or even just for fun. Because of the scale of these attacks it is virtually impossible for websites to protect themselves against them. However, some DDoS attacks are launched at individual IP addresses in gaming. You can protect yourself against this type of attack with a VPN.

Do you want to know more about DDoS attacks? How they work and how you can protect yourself against them? Find out in the article below.

DDoS stands for “distributed denial-of-service” and is used more and more in cyber attacks. With a DDoS attack any website can be temporarily taken down by hackers. Sometimes this means a website becomes extremely slow, but is also happens that a website isn’t accessible to users at all. In this article you’ll find out how to protect yourself from these attacks.

What is a DDoS Attack?

DDoS attacks can cause the websites of large companies and organizations to be temporarily unavailable. To fully understand what a DDoS attack is you’ll first need to know what a botnet is.

To organize a DDoS attack you need a botnet. This is a large network of infected devices that can be controlled by the “so-called” bot herder, the person that has control over the bots. The owners of these devices often don’t know they are part of a botnet.

Hackers can use a botnet to perform a DDoS-attack. Sometimes they’ll create botnets to sell them to others. You can find these botnet sellers on the dark web, the place on the internet where the general public doesn’t go.

Botmaster performing DDoS attack

How does a DDos attack take place?

There are different types of DDoS attacks. However, in the most common type of attack this will happen:

  1. The hacker creates or buys a botnet
  2. The botnet is instructed to visit a website; thousand of devices simultaneously request access to a website
  3. The servers of the website cannot handle the amount of requests
  4. The website is (temporarily) inaccessible for real users

Hosting companies try to make is very difficult for DDoS attacks to succeed but they cannot prevent them completely.

Possible Consequences of a DDoS Attack

While it might not sound very bad, a DDoS attack can have large consequences. The damages to a company when their website is unavailable mustn’t be underestimated. In a time where everything takes place online and consumers are used to the luxury of fast loading websites, you cannot afford to be offline. A visitor will be gone in no time if your website doesn’t work well. Moreover, these visitors could have been potential customers. For a website a DDoS attack can have the following consequences:

  • Loss of visitors
  • Missed income
  • Temporarily no access to their own systems
  • High repair costs

Protection Against DDoS Attacks

Protection against DDoS attacks exists in two categories. First there is the protection for website, often providered by the hosting company. Secondly, in some circumstances it can be wise to protect your personal devices against DDoS attacks. We’ll explain both below.

DDoS Protection for Websites

Most hosting services offer a basic protection against DDoS attacks. However, it is impossible to protect a website against DDoS attacks completely. If you own a website, you can check with your hosting provider to see what measures they take against DDoS attacks. Not all hosting providers offer the same protection against these types of attacks.

Because the attacks are performed by a large botnet that exists out of different IP addresses, they cannot simply block the IP address because there are too many of them. Moreover, they cannot be sure what are real IP addresses and what are bot IP addresses.

The devices that are part of a botnet can seem like normal requests to a website, so they won’t block them. However, the sum of all these requests is too much for the servers to handle. Moreover, botnets are becoming bigger, making it impossible for websites to guard against them.

However, it is always a good idea to check with your hosting provider to see what measures they take against DDoS attacks.

DDoS Protection for Personal Devices

VPN-connection-InternetYou can protect yourself from personal DDoS attacks. This can be achieved by hiding your true IP address. A VPN or Virtual Private Network encrypts all your internet traffic and hides your IP address. With a VPN you connect to the internet through the VPN servers and you take on the IP address of those servers. To launch a DDoS attack at you they need to know your real IP address. Thus, with a VPN nobody will be able to attack your personal device.

Reasons for DDoS Attacks

DDoS attacks are launched for an array of different reasons, and sometimes it is difficult to find out why a certain company or organization has been targeted because the attackers can stay anonymous. Below are some of the reasons why DDoS attacks are launched.

Extortion

One goal of a DDoS attack can be extortion. Hackers attack a large institution such as a bank. After the attack they threaten them with an even larger attack if they do not pay a ransom in bitcoin. The motivation here is money.

Revenge

There are also cases of DDoS attacks where a desire for revenge was the main motivation. The attacker might be angry at a company for whatever reason and attack them with a botnet.

Power Play

Another reason for DDoS attacks is a show of force. Hackers want to show what they are capable of and they illustrate this by taking down websites and services of large companies. Moreover, this can be used as a statement to show that those in power in the real world do not have the ability to control the internet.

Fun

It might seem strange, but some DDoS attacks are also executed for fun. Some hackers are simply testing the power they can wield over society. A recent attack on several large banks in the Netherlands was executed by a 18-year-old boy that later noted he did so just for the sake of it. This is shocking because it shows just how easy it is to attack large institutions online.

DDoS Attacks During Online Gaming

Gaming ControllerDDoS attacks can also be launched at a single IP address. The only thing an attacker needs is your IP address. This type of DDoS attack is most common in competitive online gaming. Hackers will launch an attack on their opponent to get them disqualified for their bad connection. This might seem extreme but has happened quite often.

In most games you play through official severs and your IP is automatically hidden. However, with some PC games that support third-party servers this isn’t the case. These third-party servers do not offer the same identity protection as the official gaming servers do.

By sending a lot of request to your IP address you will have difficulty accessing the game server, causing you to be disqualified or simply unable to access the game.

To prevent a DDoS attack on your person, for instance in an online game you can use a VPN to hide your IP address. You can read more on that below.

New DDoS Attacks on the Rise

Recently, new types of DDoS attacks have emerged. These new forms of DDoS attacks abuse network protocols that have not been used before. Criminals use built-in network protocols in the attacks that are often used by the companies themselves. This makes it more difficult to distinguish the malicious traffic from regular traffic. These attacks are also larger in scale.

The following protocols are used in these attacks: Constrained Application Protocol (CoAP), Web Services Dynamic Discovery (WS-DD), Apple Remote Management Service (ARMS) and Jenkins web-based automation software. These protocols are necessary for the devices that companies use (IoT devices, smartphones or macs). They are therefore not quickly disabled to prevent DDoS attacks.

It is expected that these protocols will be used more often for DDoS attacks in the future.

What is a DDoS attack? Frequently Asked Questions

Have you got a question about DDoS-attacks? Below you’ll find some frequently asked questions about the subject. Is your question not there? Feel free to comment and we’ll get back to you!

DDoS stands for “Distributed Denial-of-Service”. During a DDoS attack, a website is flooded with fake visitors, making the site unavailable for real visitors.

During a DDoS attack a hacker overloads a website with requests, making it unavailable to regular visitors. The hacker uses a botnet to do this. A botnet is a large network of infected devices that can be controlled by a hacker. When a botnet attacks a website, this website gets an amount of requests it cannot handle. This will cause the website to slow down or go offline completely.

Yes! DDoS attacks are illegal in most countries around the world. Moreover, most internet providers forbid DDoS attacks as well. It is both illegal to launch a DDoS attack and to hire a hacker to do this for you.

Tech journalist
Tove has been working for VPNoverview since 2017 as a journalist covering cybersecurity and privacy developments. Since 2019 she is VPNoverview.com's cybersecurity news coordinator.