How can businesses protect against distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks in today’s internet environment? (Part 1)


In today’s digital age, online businesses and services are more vulnerable than ever to cyber attacks, which can cause major disruptions, financial losses, and damage to an organization’s reputation. One of the most common types of cyber attacks is the Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack. According to statistics, the number of global DDoS attacks in 2022 will increase by 150% compared with the previous year. The number of attacks in the Americas is growing faster, with a 212% increase compared to 2021. More than half of all attacks target organizations in EMEA. The Americans accounted for 35 percent of attacks, while 7 percent of attacks targeted organizations in the Asia-Pacific region. In this article, we will take a closer look at what DDoS attacks are, how they work, their symptoms, consequences, and most importantly, how to prevent them.

What is Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS)?

DDoS attacks can be categorized into three primary types, based on the layer of the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) model they target. 

  • Network-level (Layer 3) attacks focus on overloading the network bandwidth by directing an overwhelming amount of traffic to the target’s IP address. Techniques such as DNS amplification or IP fragmentation attacks are employed to achieve this. 
  • Transport-level (Layer 4) attacks exploit vulnerabilities in the underlying transport protocol, such as TCP, UDP, or ICMP, to disrupt communication between the target and its clients. SYN floods, UDP floods, and ICMP floods are examples of such attacks. 
  • Application-level (Layer 7) attacks concentrate on the application layer of the target system, with the objective of exhausting its resources or exploiting vulnerabilities in the application code. SQL injection, Cross-Site Scripting (XSS), and HTTP floods are notable examples of application-level attacks.

How DDoS Attacks Work

DDoS attacks are carried out by overwhelming the target website or service with an enormous volume of traffic, rendering it inaccessible to legitimate users. This traffic originates from multiple sources, including compromised devices, botnets, or techniques like DNS reflection that amplify the attack. Attackers employ various methods to execute a DDoS attack, such as application-layer attacks, protocol-level attacks, and resource exhaustion attacks.

Application-layer attacks exploit vulnerabilities in the target application, such as SQL injection or XSS, to exhaust its resources or disrupt its functionality. Protocol-level attacks leverage weaknesses in the underlying network protocols like TCP, UDP, or ICMP, disrupting communication between the target and its clients. Resource exhaustion attacks aim to deplete the target’s resources, such as CPU, memory, or disk space, by flooding it with an overwhelming amount of requests or data. These attack methods collectively contribute to the successful execution of a DDoS attack, causing symptoms such as unavailability, slow response times, or server errors on the targeted website or service.

Consequences of DDoS Attacks

DDoS attacks can cause serious damage to businesses, organizations, and individuals, resulting in financial loss, reputational damage, and legal liability. The attacked object and its users may need to bear the serious consequences caused by the DDoS attack.

When the website or service is unavailable for an extended period of time, financial loss may result. Taking the financial industry in Hong Kong as an example, if the services of online banking, payment platforms or investment service providers are interrupted, customers may not be able to conduct transactions or manage their accounts, thereby affecting their transaction process and income, and more seriously, causing customers to lose money because of failure to perform important financial operations in a timely manner or missed investment opportunities.

Legal liabilities may arise if the DDoS attack causes harm to the target or its users. In such cases, the organization may face legal consequences, including potential lawsuits and financial penalties. If DDoS attacks happen, it can tarnish an organization’s reputation significantly and cause reputational damage. The loss of trust from customers and partners can have long-lasting effects on the organization’s credibility and relationships. Operational costs associated with recovering from a DDoS attack can be substantial. Restoring the functionality and security of the system often requires additional resources, time, and expertise. This expenditure adds to the overall impact of the attack, both financially and operationally.

How Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Should Prevent DDoS Attacks

Preventing DDoS attacks requires a comprehensive approach that combines technical and non-technical measures. DDoS prevention systems play a crucial role in identifying and blocking malicious traffic by employing techniques such as traffic filtering, rate limiting, and behavioral analysis. These systems can be implemented either on-premises or in the cloud, depending on the specific requirements of the organization.

Capacity planning is another important aspect of DDoS prevention. By ensuring that the target website or service has adequate resources to handle peak loads, organizations can reduce the impact of a potential DDoS attack. Utilizing a Content Delivery Network (CDN) can enhance resilience against DDoS attacks. By distributing the website or service across multiple servers, a CDN helps absorb and mitigate the impact of incoming traffic during an attack.

Besides, regular security assessments are essential to identify vulnerabilities and weaknesses in the target system. By conducting these assessments, organizations can proactively address security gaps and implement measures to prevent DDoS attacks. Also, companies could provide employee training on cybersecurity best practices for reducing the risk of DDoS attacks. Educating employees about potential threats, such as phishing scams, and promoting good security habits like using strong passwords, enhances the overall security posture of the organization.

Nowadays, DDoS attacks are a significant cyber threat to businesses and organizations in today’s digital age. Understanding how they work, their consequences, and prevention measures is essential to protect an organization’s assets, reputation, and customers. By implementing effective prevention measures and staying vigilant, companies can reduce the risk of a DDoS attack and ensure the continuity of online business or service.

Our next article will continue to introduce how can businesses use Cloudflare Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) to cost-effectively prevent DDoS attacks?. Please pay attention to our NineSmart’s latest innovation. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us.