What is a DDoS attack, and how does it threaten users?

Anton P. | April 19, 2022

A DDoS attack is a vicious attempt to sabotage targets’ connectivity. Perpetrators flood machines or networks with bogus traffic, pushing services or people offline. It is also outside the scope of traditional hacking.

After all, DDoS blows do not pursue the invasion of systems. It attacks functionality and connectivity, hoping to cause damage. Furthermore, such strikes have increased in popularity, and their relatively undemanding execution contributes to this. Therefore, getting reliable DDoS protection is essential, and a VPN should be a part of this defense strategy.

ddos

DoS and DDoS meaning

A DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack drives an overwhelming amount of traffic to targeted entities. For instance, a common prey for such raids are websites, both from the private and public sectors.

Usually, attackers send thousands or more simultaneous requests to web servers. The plan is to clog servers and make them incapable of responding to each request. As a result, they go down, and websites render unreachable to legitimate users.

Recently, Russian hackers have allegedly initiated a DDoS attack against Finland’s government websites. Specifically, official sites of the Ministry of Defense and Foreign Ministry websites were down.

However, indicating the actual culprits is a tedious task and might not always be possible. After all, the word Distributed in DDoS means that the traffic can flow from thousands of devices. Many of them include machines turned into bots.

The number of participating devices is precisely what differentiates DoS from DDoS.

  • DoS attacks. They usually happen from one device.
  • DDoS attacks. They can include hundreds or thousands of devices, willingly or unwillingly integrated into botnets.

Surprisingly, DDoS attacks are one of the least sophisticated cyber threats. However, its impact varies and can cause services to go down for days. Therefore, it is crucial to set up DDoS protection to deal with it as soon as possible.

How does a DDoS attack work?

Attackers initiate DDoS raids from various internet-connected devices: laptops, computers, servers, etc. Usually, not all these devices belong to the original attackers. After all, getting thousands of gadgets would require a lot of resources.

Therefore, DDoS attacks usually require extensive botnets. Innocent internet users can unknowingly join these networks after falling for phishing scams or other cyber threats.

Thus, attackers take control over other peoples’ devices, which can be helpful not only for DDoS raids but for phishing or ransomware distribution.

Sadly, malicious actors can target anyone all for the sake of wreaking havoc. Sometimes, attackers can have different motivations beyond financial reasons. Some might be ideological, trying to push unethical or untrustworthy entities offline. Therefore, some relate DDoS as a form of hacktivism. However, it is more often done with malicious intentions.

What are the common targets of DDoS?

The prevalent target for DDoS attacks is government institutions. Of course, private sector representatives also become prey. So, the famous DDoS attacks involve some of the biggest companies and government services.

Nevertheless, competitive gamers also end up on hackers’ radar more frequently than expected. After all, DDoS attacks can push players offline, meaning their gaming will be cut short, likely making them lose matches. While DDoS might not target random players, such poisonous traffic can aim to disrupt official game servers.

Therefore, these attacks become directed against game companies and their resources. The resolutions for these attacks differ, with some servers coming up in minutes while others might take longer to fix. Over time, DDoS attacks have grown more powerful, taking longer to settle. For instance, Among Us servers are one of the recent victims of DDoS attacks.

Game-focused DDoS attacks can also do more damage than perpetrators anticipated initially. For instance, sabotage against Minecraft servers forced Andora’s internet infrastructure to crumble.

Can individuals be victims of DDoS attacks?

The DDoS meaning, goals, and protection should also be relevant to home users. Vicious attackers can put individuals on their radar after catching their attention. For instance, competitive players encounter many disturbances when playing online.

Are DDoS attacks illegal?

DDoS attacks are illegal and malicious acts in most countries. Caught perpetrators can face prison sentences, fines, or both. In 2020, a man in the US received a five-year prison sentence and a fine of $520,000 in restitution. DDoS attackers run similar risks in other regions, like the UK and Europe. In the latter, computer sabotage can lead to up to five years of imprisonment.

According to our research, 65% of all reported DDoS attacks happen against entities in the US or UK.

How difficult is it to trace DDoS attackers?

Catching the culprits behind DDoS attacks is difficult yet possible. Of course, tracing the source is a demanding task as bogus traffic flows from hundreds or thousands of devices. Nevertheless, advanced procedures and sophisticated tools have significantly reduced the strain. Forensics can employ trace evidence and recreate the DDoS attack from the beginning.

On the other hand, tracing DoS attackers is much easier as fewer devices participate in the campaign.

How to defend against and mitigate DDoS attacks

Preventing DDoS attacks entirely is difficult. Therefore, DDoS protection involves several steps, many of them helping control the fake traffic.

  • Be careful not to become a part of botnets. DDoS would be impossible without an army of bots. If users become more immune to common cyber dangers, criminals will have fewer opportunities for assembling such forces.
  • Website owners increase capacity. If you fear that your service can go down, aim to elevate the transit and server capacities. It means double-checking whether hosting providers supply enough resources for handling large traffic volumes. Furthermore, it is crucial to scale up or down on your computation resources quickly.
  • Get intrusion-detection systems. Such defense mechanisms can recognize anomalies in received traffic. However, these sophisticated systems can also require significant computing resources. Furthermore, they might present false positives as well. Firewalls also scan traffic and can help mitigate bogus requests.
  • Hide your IP address. Perpetrators need your IP address if they wish to flood your device with bogus traffic. Instead, you can trick them by masking IP addresses with a Virtual Private Network. The latter tool replaces IP addresses when you connect to VPN servers. Therefore, you connect to the internet using an IP address provided by a VPN. If a DoS or DDoS attack targets this identifier, VPN servers will absorb the damage.
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Anton P.

Anton P.

Former chef and the head of Atlas VPN blog team. He's an experienced cybersecurity expert with a background of technical content writing.

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