There can be no confusion about the severity and frequency of Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. 

According to reports, Cloudflare’s defence systems mitigated 4.5 million DDoS attacks in the first quarter of 2024, which represented a 50% year-on-year increase, as well as being 32% of 2023’s entire number of attacks. 

Similarly, DNS-based DDoS attacks were up a staggering 80% year-on-year. 

The nature of the DDoS attack

A DDoS attack isn’t primarily about stealing data, like the more ‘traditional’ cyberattack. Instead, its focus is on taking down or disrupting the normal traffic of a targeted server, service or network.

The attack overwhelms a network with internet traffic by sending multiple requests from multiple untraceable sources. The systems then struggle under the strain and find it hard  to remain efficient. They may even collapse entirely.

In essence, see a DDoS attack as an unexpected traffic jam or gridlock on a motorway, preventing a regular flow of traffic reaching their destination. 

It’s estimated that 91% of UK businesses have been affected by DDoS attacks. Smaller-scale attacks are intended to go unnoticed, in as much as they don’t make a website crash but rather slow it down and make it unreliable and cumbersome for end-users.

These are known as ‘sub-saturated attacks’ in which systems are inconvenienced, but not totally overwhelmed. Due to this, these ‘sub-saturated attacks’ can continue for weeks at a time or be carried out repeatedly.

Reputational damage following a DDoS attack is now a prime concern rather than the loss of revenue that would follow a full-service outage.

With the increase in more minor breaches, awareness towards DDoS attacks has grown and more organisations are taking proactive measures to mitigate against them. The focus is on customer experience; organisations and businesses want their services and digital infrastructure to be optimised at all times.

The incentive to take DDoS attacks seriously is that doing so not only protects a business’s brand but also ensures that growth ambitions can be maintained.

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How a DDoS attack damages your brand

A DDoS attack’s first call of action is that it intends to disrupt an organisation’s website. In today’s digital-first world, having a digital presence is vital for the vast majority of businesses, so any disruption to this may result in buyers abandoning the process altogether, taking their custom elsewhere. 

If a website takes more than four seconds to load, 25% of users will give up on it, while slow-loading checkouts increases the risk of abandonment by 75%. 

DDoS mitigation measures counter such impacts of attacks by load balancing and database caching helping businesses’ websites and shopping portals deal with spikes in traffic. Additionally, these resources can be scaled up and down to deal with these fluctuations in traffic volumes as necessary.

Slower business systems caused by an attack of this nature can also damage the brand and reputation. Digital infrastructure, supporting applications and a range of hardware solutions now sit at the heart of how the business world functions in 2024, with Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephone networks, IoT sensors and accounting systems. 

If a DDoS attack blasts all aspects of your networks with heavy traffic and slows them down, both a business’s customers and its suppliers will be frustrated as service level agreements (SLAs) go unmet.

Organisations can be embarrassed by the traffic which is generated as a DDoS attack begins. The process starts via bots and botnets, which are networks of compromised devices that are controlled remotely to orchestrate attacks. Botnet cells are known as zombies and can subsequently be found on networked devices. 

DDoS attacks can be traced back to the zombies from which they originated, so if any part of your network has been compromised and used to form a botnet, other affected businesses can see that the attack on them can be traced back to your resources and network and they will, quite rightly, ask difficult questions about the suitability of your network’s security protocols.

DDoS’s role in other attacks

If left unchecked, a DDoS attack can cause substantial damage and disruption to their target. But more concerningly, DDoS attacks are being used by cybercriminals to disguise other tactics. Essentially operating like a smokescreen, opportunists can leverage DDoS to deliver more insidious attacks such as malware or ransomware.

Due to this, those tasked with overseeing cyber security for their organisation need to have an understanding of what these other attacks look like.

DDoS protection service providers can detect an attack in its early stages and have both the bandwidth to absorb large-scale traffic and the scalable resources for an effective mitigation. They also offer reassurance that there is in-house protection from DDoS attacks as part of a company’s anti-attack arsenal and infrastructure in cloud, multi-cloud and hybrid environments. 

The time it takes to mitigate the attack and block offending traffic will be contractually guaranteed, as the provider continually notifies their client of the attack’s progress. 

How to mitigate against a DDoS attack

As a first step, a business’s IT teams need to check the symptoms showing on their systems,  the services the attack has targeted and a correlation of CPU utilisation levels with network traffic logs and application availability levels. 

This will then establish whether it is a DDoS attack that has taken place. They can then perform packet captures of DDoS activities to verify that their firewalls are blocking malicious traffic and allowing its legitimate counterpart.

Although you can utilise in-house mitigation strategies, such as filtering IP addresses or geo-blocking entire geographical areas, these are only temporary measures designed to prevent small scale DDoS attacks, buying businesses time to apply other defensive measures. When a bigger and more serious DDoS attack strikes, it demands extensive action. 

Enlisting the support of a specialist provider of cybersecurity solutions will be essential to ensure uptime of your customer-facing portals. They can do this by absorbing traffic spikes and ‘scrubbing’ data to pass on only ‘in profile’ data and continually analyse network traffic, implementing policy changes in response to emerging attack patterns. 

They can also use their experience and knowledge to mitigate multiple vector attacks, implement web application firewalls which block attacks using customisable filters which filter, inspect and block malicious traffic and offer continued service when the DDoS attack has been successfully mitigated. Their ongoing 24/7 support acts as a bolster to the organisation’s defences too. 

Don’t wait until the worst has already happened

DDoS attacks are not going away any time soon and their effects on businesses and organisations of all sizes could be significant. 

An understanding of the nature of the DDoS attack is vital for the smooth running of your business, as is the knowledge of how to deal with them before they grow into more serious concerns that can bring your operations to a shuddering halt.

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