DDoS (distributed denial of service) attacks are a business’s worst nightmare. They can slow down, disable or even damage your Web site. Learn to deal with these attacks and keep you and your customers online.
What is a DDoS?
What a nightmare! Without warning your Web site is swamped with requests for information or to simply view your homepage. These requests come so quickly, and in such great numbers, that your site can’t keep up. It starts to run so slowly that no one, not even your customers, can get through. Your site might crash, and permanent damage is possible.
You’ve been the victim of a DDoS: A distributed denial of service.
How a DDoS Works
A distributed-denial-of-service attack is carried out by hackers and it overloads your server, causing it to malfunction. These hackers set up networks of host computers — often without the hosts’ knowledge — to make demands on your Web site. These demands might be as simple as viewing Web pages, except that they come as quickly as 100 times per second.
The scary part is that the DDoS attack looks just like any normal requests. They often are normal requests, just at huge volumes. Thus, they are notoriously hard to predict or prevent. Because the hackers set up these networks of host computers, there is no centralized computer to deny access to. This is why even Microsoft has fallen victim to a DDoS.
So, what can you do?
How to Recognize a DDoS
The first step in avoiding damage from a DDoS is to realize you’ve been the victim of one. The best way to do this is to stay alert to changes in the way your network is acting. Has there been a slowdown in page-loading times? Are your computers going offline? Have your customers complained they can’t get through to your site?
Keep a close eye on your network and, should it start to act funny, look into it. Right away. Preventing damage from a DDoS depends on acting quickly.
Mitigating a DDoS
If a DDoS attack can be characterized as a flood of requests to your server, then mitigating that attack means slowing the flood. Notice that the idea is to slow the flood, not stop it.
Why? The DDoS is mimicking requests that are necessary to the normal functioning of your network. You can’t stop these requests from coming in altogether because that would keep everyone from using your Web site, including your customers.
The trick, rather, is to build a filter that separates bad requests from good. To do this, you must discover the nature of the attack. Find out what processes are running as part of the attack and turn them off. If a particular application is running many times on your system, particularly one you don’t recognize, it’s a strong sign that you’ve been hit with a DDoS.
Next, trace the attack’s origin. If you discover its source, you can prevent the DDoS. The problem is that the immediate source is a network of host computers, which may number in the hundreds. To trace backwards from the hosts to the hacker, you’ll likely need the help of your Internet Service Provider (ISP). You won’t be able to follow the attack “upstream” on your own.
DDoS attacks are difficult to deal with, and you will need assistance from your ISP, possibly from a professional DDoS mitigation firm. It’s a tricky, unpleasant task, but you can close the floodgates of a DDoS attack.
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