Dealing With Distributed Denial of Service Attacks
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Distributed denial of service attacks are frustrating -- they're frustrating for the company under attack, and frustrating for the web host. They can also be costly in terms of business and goodwill lost. Fortunately, there are ways to deal with them, if you are willing to prepare for the possibility of a DDoS before it happens.
You may not have seen them very much in the news recently, but distributed denial of service attacks (DDoS) have not gone away. If anything, these attacks – or at least their potential – have become scarier over time as malicious hackers have worked on improving their methods. The increase in home-based broadband Internet connections, for example, means that hackers can now more easily infect a larger number of machines with fast, powerful connections to the Internet and make them do their bidding.
Let’s back up a second and define what we mean by a distributed denial of service attack. A DDoS attack is an attempt to disrupt the service of a computer network and/or company website by overwhelming the processing capacity of the system or by flooding the bandwidth of the business. It is a blatant attempt to consume the system’s resources, to the point that genuine, legitimate users (i.e. website visitors) are denied access.
Hackers engage in DDoS attacks via a two-step process. First, they infect computers with viruses and Trojans that allow them to control the machines remotely. They will then use these computers, known as “zombies,” to overwhelm other systems. These zombie networks can become quite large.
In October 2005, Dutch police arrested three people who’d created a zombie network comprising at least 100,000 computers. Some reports estimate the network was more like 1.5 million machines strong. The three who had created the network were using it to extort money from U.S. companies. It must have worked something like a high-tech version of the classic cliché of the mob protection racket: “Nice company website you have there. Be a shame if it crashed and all your customers couldn’t get through.”
Since many commercial websites now rely on a constant Internet presence, this threat carries a real bite behind it. And with that many machines at a hacker’s command, even a hardened company such as Microsoft is not immune to a DDoS attack. It’s just the thing for the technology wizard with “different” morals who wants to make some money or a political statement.
Dealing with the problems raised by DDoS attacks often requires lots of communication between the company being victimized and the ISP. If you’re hosting a website that is under attack, that’s you; if you’re a web hosting reseller, you’re still that company’s line of communication to the folks who are handling the servers. Needless to say, it helps to know what you’re up against.
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