Inside the most common DDoS attack: the TCP flood attack

Cyberattacks, ever on the rise, are predicted to reach record numbers in 2023. From ransomware to DDoS, the list of potential threats that businesses need to defend against is growing. Moving data into the cloud and creating environments that include Internet of Things devices have increased convenience for many consumers, but it has also broadened the attack surface and made companies more susceptible to attack.

DDoS attacks are a particular concern for IoT companies. A large number of devices connected to both a local network and a larger cloud environment creates many possible attack vectors. Security failure at just one of these vectors spells trouble for the whole environment. So, DDoS protection is advisable for any company that frequently uses the cloud, Internet of Things devices, or easily accessible web applications.

The Growing DDoS threat

Much of the focus in security right now is on ransomware due to its spike during and after lockdowns. However, DDoS attacks can be just as devastating, so it’s important for organizations to be aware of the growing threat.

  • What is a DDoS attack? A Distributed Denial of Service attack (DDoS) occurs when an attacker overwhelms a network with traffic, rendering it unable to function normally. A denial of service may happen during times of unprecedentedly high web traffic, as happened to a third party candidate’s campaign website during the first debate in the last U.S. presidential election, for example. The unexpected flood of traffic to the site caused it to crash, and no one was able to use it for several hours. A DDoS attack causes the same result, but the traffic is coordinated and malicious.
  • How does the DDoS attack work? An attacker can utilize many devices to orchestrate the attack, and the traffic can come from multiple places at once. Generally, the attacker will create a network of compromised devices, or a botnet, that can coordinate the attack. The devices are often recruited by malware that spreads through phishing emails or unsafe downloads, but an IoT device with the default password is another easy target. Once the malicious traffic has gummed up the works in the website, normal traffic is blocked.
  • How does the DDoS attack affect you? The success of your company depends on its ability to communicate with customers and vendors. If no one can access your website because you’re suffering from a DDoS attack, you’ll lose business, and your online reputation may be impacted. Customers don’t want to visit a website that crawls when they try to browse it, and they aren’t likely to come back again once they’ve been frustrated.
  • Risk factors for a DDoS attack: Security practices do not necessarily keep pace with technology adoption. As more people begin using IoT devices, they tend to neglect to change the username and password from the default. If IoT devices all come out of the box with the same password, it’s very simple for an attacker to gain access to multiple devices and begin building a botnet. Reliance on the cloud, while essential to many companies, is also a risk factor as it adds to the potential attack vectors, and the attack would be crippling for business operations.

Inside a TCP flood attack

The most common type of DDoS attack is the TCP SYN flood, which accounted for about 46% in 2022. In this type of attack the malicious actor’s device sends a communication request, and the website or server under attack receives that request and communicates back. The attacker’s device either never receives the communication or does not respond, causing the lines of communication to remain open unnecessarily. As more malicious requests come in and leave the attack site hanging, it becomes increasingly difficult or impossible for legitimate traffic to communicate.

Eventually, the requests will time out, but waiting for the attacker to stop sending requests tends not to be an effective security strategy.

Protecting against DDoS attacks

As business operations become increasingly dependent on the cloud, web applications, and network connectivity, it’s important to protect websites and servers from DDoS attacks. The simplest way to do that is DDoS protection. A good protection service will utilize algorithms to analyze incoming requests, which prevents a spoofed IP address or bots from completing requests. Protection services should be able to filter out malicious traffic so that legitimate visitors have the access they need without the inconvenience of filling out six CAPTCHAs.

Another perk of using DDoS protection is that even if the attacker has more resources than a single company, a good protection service will be able to leverage its technology to outmatch the attackers. The service may also use cookies to track visitors, effectively making it more difficult for an attacker to connect. For the capability a company receives, it’s a reasonable expense.

Any company with devices online or web access is at risk of a DDoS attack. To preserve time, money, and reputation, it’s advisable to use a DDoS protection service that can help prevent attacks and mitigate communication requests from malicious entities. Of all possible attacks, DDoS is one of the simplest to do and one of the most difficult to stop, so for many companies, it’s worth taking preventative measures.

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