What is a Denial Of Service (DDOS)?

It all started 22 years ago, when “mafiaboy,” a 15-year-old Canadian hacker, orchestrated a series of DoS attacks against several e-commerce sites, including Amazon and eBay. The attacks crippled Internet commerce; the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) estimated that the affected sites suffered $1.7 billion in damages. 

Distributed Denial Of Service or DDOS is a type of cyber attack in which a malicious actor or group floods the website of a business or public organization with a high amount of fake traffic. A successful attack is comparable to your kitchen sink pipe being flooded with a tsunami. It works well with the amount of water it was designed to handle, but the drastic increase in water pressure will damage the pipe and render it unusable until the Tsunami amount of water is stopped and the pipe repaired. 

Similarly, during a DDOS, malicious actors send a Tsunami worth of fake traffic to a targeted website. By doing so, the computer system is overworked and can shut down and become unable to service legitimate traffic. 

DDOS attacks are becoming increasingly popular leaving no one safe. Some of the biggest businesses of our time such as Amazon, Google, and Microsoft have been victims of DDOS. Public organizations are also often targeted including embassies, media outlets, governments, and as discussed in the case study above healthcare centers. Anyone with an internet presence can be a target. 

Now, why would someone use a DDOS attack? There is a wide range of possible motivations that can trigger an individual or group to carry out such an attack. Here are a few examples: 

  • Hacktivist : As reflected in the Boston Children’s Hospital case, hacktivists will often use DDOS to pressure a target to do what the attacker deems to be right. They use their skills to fulfill social or political goals, often in a public manner. 
  • Political : Government and embassies can be targeted, especially during uprisings, elections, or war. The recent events in Ukraine sparked DDOS attacks from grassroots movements and the state.  
  • Show off : Hackers sometimes simply want to show off their skills to the rest of the community. 
  • Ransom : Hackers will often hit an organization with a small DDOS attack before demanding a ransom, threatening it with a more damaging attack if it is not paid. 
  • Diversion : DDOS can also be used to divert the attention of the IT team to create an opportunity for the attacker to compromise the computer system. 

A successful DDOS attack shuts down service for a few minutes to a few days. It always negatively impacts the reputation of the targeted organization. The financial cost of such an attack can be significant given that one hour of IT service downtime can cost from $300,000 to over $1 million. Furthermore, DDOS can be part of a larger attack threatening assets and data. DDOS is undeniably dangerous and should be a top priority when planning for cyber protection. 

DDOS mitigation tools are not sufficient anymore 

DDOS attacks are a current occurrence making it imperative for organizations to prepare their system for the eventuality of such a situation. A prominent strategy used by many organizations when it comes to DDOS is resilient mitigation tools. These solutions work well in the aftermath of an attack, but they begin their efforts only after the attack has hit the system. Those mitigation tools wait for an attack to occur to mitigate its consequences and speed up the recovery –  They do not prevent the attack. 

DDOS can be done using a multitude of techniques resulting in different amplitudes which makes them hard to detect. Attackers can use different tactics one after the other which can confuse the protecting algorithm and allow the attack to be carried on for longer. In other cases, malicious actors have been using low volume sent from various sources throughout longer periods. By doing so, the attack can affect the system while delaying detection.

The dynamic nature of modern computing systems makes it impossible for mitigation tools to update configurations continuously. As new services and applications are added to the system, vulnerabilities arise and go undetected leaving your system at risk. 

While mitigation tools are crucial after a DDOS hit, they have undeniable shortcomings that need to be addressed to protect one’s system. Detecting and repairing the vulnerabilities used by attackers can prevent them from falling victim to a DDOS attack in the first place. Prevention should always be a priority when protecting precious computer systems and assets. 

DDOS simulation – the future of cyber protection 

DDOS attacks are on the rise and the technique used to carry them are as varied as they are hard to detect. Furthermore, DDOS tools are sold, and this makes the initiation of attacks easier than before. Mitigation tools partially help deal with the aftermath of an attack once the system has already been damaged. They do not provide protection before the attack and often can’t detect an attack promptly. 

This is where DDOS simulation software comes into play. As the name entices, DDOS simulation simulates a DDOS attack to test the system’s resilience and detect any vulnerabilities. Finding those vulnerabilities allows finding adapted solutions to protect before they can be used by malicious actors. 

The most important point regarding DDOS simulations is to use realistic situations.  Large-volume attacks are the scariest, but smaller attacks with lower volume are far more common and tend to go unnoticed for longer. DDOS simulations test a system using real-world attack patterns with a wide variety of traffic patterns, threat vectors, botnets, zombies, and countless other crucial parameters. DDOS simulations software allows the testing of different parameters and volumes according to an organization’s current and future traffic.

Good DDOS simulation programs offer a wide range of attack types and combinations to stress test the computer system, attempting to cover as many scenarios as possible. As a result, weak points and vulnerabilities are brought to light allowing for corrective actions to be taken before outside threats can exploit them. The results from the simulations can then be used to fine-tune a later one, building incomparable protection.