What Is a DDoS Attack and How to Stay Safe from Malicious Traffic Schemes
Imagine you’re driving down a highway to get to work. There are other cars on the road, but by and large everyone is moving smoothly at a crisp, legal speed limit. Then, as you approach an entry ramp, more cars join. And then more, and more, and more until all of the sudden traffic has slowed to a crawl. This illustrates a DDoS attack.
DDoS stands for Distributed Denial of Service, and it’s a method where cybercriminals flood a network with so much malicious traffic that it cannot operate or communicate as it normally would. This causes the site’s normal traffic, also known as legitimate packets, to come to a halt. DDoS is a simple, effective and powerful technique that’s fueled by insecure devices and poor digital habits. Luckily, with a few easy tweaks to your everyday habits, you can safeguard your personal devices against DDoS attacks.
DDoS Attacks Are on the Rise
The expansion of 5G, proliferation of IoT and smart devices, and shift of more industries moving their operations online have presented new opportunities for DDoS attacks. Cybercriminals are taking advantage, and 2020 saw two of the largest DDoS offensives ever recorded. In 2020, ambitious attacks were launched on Amazon and Google. There is no target too big for cybercriminals.
DDoS attacks are one of the more troubling areas in cybersecurity, because they’re incredibly difficult to prevent and mitigate.. Preventing these attacks is particularly difficult because malicious traffic isn’t coming from a single source. There are an estimated 12.5 million devices that are vulnerable to being recruited by a DDoS attacker.
Personal Devices Become DDoS Attack Soldiers
DDoS attacks are fairly simple to create. All it takes are two devices that coordinate to send fake traffic to a server or website. That’s it. Your laptop and your phone, for example, could be programmed to form their own DDoS network (sometimes referred to as a botnet, more below). However, even if two devices dedicate all of their processing power in an attack, it still isn’t enough to take down a website or server. Hundreds and thousands of coordinated devices are required to take down an entire service provider.
To amass a network of that size, cybercriminals create what’s known as a “botnet,” a network of compromised devices that coordinate to achieve a particular task. Botnets don’t always have to be used in a DDoS attack, nor does a DDoS have to have a botnet to work, but more often than not they go together like Bonnie and Clyde. Cybercriminals create botnets through fairly typical means: tricking people into downloading malicious files and spreading malware.
But malware isn’t the only means of recruiting devices. Because a good deal of companies and consumers practice poor password habits, malicious actors can scan the internet for connected devices with known factory credentials or easy-to-guess passwords (“password,” for example). Once logged in, cybercriminals can easily infect and recruit the device into their cyber army.
Why DDoS Launches Are Often Successful
These recruited cyber armies can lie dormant until they’re given orders. This is where a specialized server called a command and control server (typically abbreviated as a “C2”) comes into play. When instructed, cybercriminals will order a C2 server to issue instructions to compromised devices. Those devices will then use a portion of their processing power to send fake traffic to a targeted server or website and, voila! That’s how a DDoS attack is launched.
DDoS attacks are usually successful because of their distributed nature, and the difficulty in discerning between legitimate users and fake traffic. They do not, however, constitute a breach. This is because DDoS attacks overwhelm a target to knock it offline — not to steal from it. Usually DDoS attacks will be deployed as a means of retaliation against a company or service, often for political reasons. Sometimes, however, cybercriminals will use DDoS attacks as a smokescreen for more serious compromises that may eventually lead to a full-blown breach.
3 Ways to Prevent Your Devices from Being Recruited
DDoS attacks are only possible because devices can be easily compromised. Here are three ways you can prevent your devices from participating in a DDoS attack:
- Secure your router: Your Wi-Fi router is the gateway to your network. Secure it by changing the default password. If you’ve already thrown out the instructions for your router and aren’t sure how to do this, consult the internet for instructions on how to do it for your specific make and model, or call the manufacturer. And remember, protection can start within your router, too. Solutions such as McAfee Secure Home Platform, which is embedded within select routers, help you easily manage and protect your network.
- Change default passwords on IoT devices: Many Internet of Things (IoT) devices, smart objects that connect to the internet for increased functionality and efficiency, come with default usernames and passwords. The very first thing you should do after taking your IoT device out of the box is change those default credentials. If you’re unsure of how to change the default setting on your IoT device, refer to setup instructions or do a bit of research online.
- Use comprehensive security: Many botnets are coordinated on devices without any built-in security. Comprehensive security solutions, like McAfee Total Protection, can help secure your most important digital devices from known malware variants. If you don’t have a security suite protecting your devices, take the time to do your research and commit to a solution you trust.
Now that you know what a DDoS attack is and how to protect against it, you’re better equipped to keep your personal devices and safe and secure.