We are going to discuss a somewhat new but potentially dangerous nemesis to cyber security - the DDoS attacks. If you have not heard of it as yet or are not aware of what it can do, go through this article till the very end.

Before proceeding ahead....here is a bit of a ‘prelude’..

The ‘advancing’ threat of cyber attacks for businesses

We may reasonably assume that, like most businesses these days, you rely heavily on internet-based technologies, to reach out to clients and achieve your digital marketing objectives. Right? We guessed so! But, let us remind you that all digital tools have the potential to expose your company to cyber threats. While digital payment systems have enabled financial inclusion and transparency, they have also resulted in increased security threats and data breaches. Recent years, the COVID-19 outbreak has created an entirely new playground for hackers. Lockdowns around the world increased online activity in many areas of daily life.

Everything changed quickly in the online world, and let's not deny it, most of us were unprepared for it. Work, education, grocery shopping, and even basic healthcare have all gone completely online, all of a sudden. Businesses offering online services were required to adjust their platforms to handle greater online traffic than ever before. They also started to realise more than ever before, that data security should be one of their primary responsibilities if they are having access to the users'/customers' confidential information But, businesses with thousands of employees could not protect all of their devices instantaneously and that was where the nemesis of cyber threats loomed large on them.

In the meantime, the evolution of cyber attacks is continuously changing as well. DDoS is one such form of cyber attack that has found prominence of late. Let’s discuss what it is and the kind of impact it is having on businesses in India and all over the world.

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What is a DDoS attack?

DDoS stands for Distributed Denial of Service. It is not something you may put into the category of a typical cyber-attack. We can call it a hack, even though it is not a hacking attack either. DDoS attacks are launched by hackers, but they do not infiltrate your system with software, viruses or malware.

Instead, they flood your networks or server with bogus traffic that your system cannot handle, preventing it from responding to legitimate user requests. Large botnets (a tool consisting of a network of connected devices infected with malicious software) are used by attackers. This is to send repeated signals to your server, rendering your website inaccessible. They fully restrict your system from outside traffic. As a result, your company's ability to provide services to clients is hampered, and your business operations are disrupted. As a result, the term Distributed Denial of Service was coined.

If you are not able to recognise the problem, this attack might cause significant financial damage to your business. Extended downtime can result in loss of revenue, as well as a loss of client trust. This is more so if you can't figure out what caused the problem and believe your website is simply offline. Let us assume you lack effective defence and recovery systems. Then, criminals may attempt to extort money from you by launching a modest DDoS attack to infiltrate your system and then threatening to launch a ransomware attack.

Trend and Impact of DDoS Attacks

The trend and impact of DDoS attacks- India and abroad

A recent report on DDoS threat intelligence by NetScout showed that cyber criminals launched 9.7 million DDoS attacks in 2021 alone. This was a 3% decrease as compared to the previous year. In the last decade, DDoS assaults targeted GitHub, Cloudflare, Amazon Web Services, and even Google.

In the Indian context, a study by global cyber security firm Radware unveiled an alarming scenario with regard to cyber security. It showed that in August 2020, the number of DDoS incidents in India reached a record high in terms of total DDOS packets, which was over 10 in number. According to a new analysis from security company Symantec, which investigated DDoS attack trends in 50 different nations, India accounts for 26% of all DDoS attack traffic in the world. The United States ranks second on the list, accounting for 17% of all DDoS activity. Symantec's Security Response team performed the research based on data collected from January to August 2014 by Symantec's worldwide network of more than 42 million threat sensors.

According to Symantec's analysis, DDoS attacks frequently originate in nations with a low adoption rate of networking technologies meant to filter out faked packets. India fits this criteria and this is why, our country is likely to become a hotbed for DDoS-launching attackers in future. The country's lack of adequate security practices, low cyber security awareness and infrastructure work in attackers' favour.

Another reason why India is an appealing target for DDoS service providers is a casual attitude toward information security best practices in many Indian organisations and limited security budgets. Several end users fail to fully safeguard their devices, making them vulnerable to malware that might infiltrate their PC and transform it into a botnet node. From this, attackers can conduct DDoS attacks.

The same is true for corporate data centres, as high-bandwidth servers are becoming enticing targets for hackers looking to initiate DDoS assaults or sell that service elsewhere. Local assaults linked to financial blackmail, in which criminals threaten to take a business offline have increased in particular. Also, attacks designed to distract IT security response teams, while attackers concurrently hack their intended target, are on the rise.

In recent years, there has been an upsurge in DDoS attacks, accompanied by continued innovation by attackers. They continue to develop new tactics and technologies to broaden their list of targets. India is likely to witness this trend as well. DDoS attacks have evolved to become more sophisticated these days. Previously, attackers would attempt to bombard sites with bogus packets.

However, attackers have lately resorted to 'improved' attacks that target specific networking protocols, resulting in disruptions. They do so by using considerably smaller volumes of packet traffic. Another emerging type of attack is amplification and reflection. Here, attackers deliver a packet to a server from a fake address and request a substantial amount of data to be returned. With plenty of such requests, even modest queries can lead to enormous volumes of data. This can flood a victim's website. There has also been an upsurge in DDoS attacks emerging from mobile and Internet of Things (IoT) devices. As more of these devices connect to the Internet, security experts predict criminals to take note.

Ironically, with the rise in the impact and severity of DDoS attacks, the cost of 'hiring' a DDoS attack has somewhat decreased. For example, so-called "booter" services may reportedly be purchased for as little as 300 rupees. With this, a DDoS attack can be launched on any target, which lasts just a few minutes. While this may appear small, booter services are frequently utilised by gamers to gain an advantage by literally booting their competitors out of multiplayer games. Some service providers even offer monthly payments for heavy booter users.

Types of DDoS Attacks

Types of DDoS attacks

As we have seen above, there may be different types of DDoS attacks cyber criminals may resort to. But, for the sake of simplicity, these attacks can be grouped into 3 larger categories. These are-

  1. Volumetric Attacks

These are the most common DDoS attacks. These attacks rely on botnets to overload network ports, rendering them incapable of processing legitimate traffic or user requests. Here, bots transmit bogus traffic to all access ports, blocking them and preventing regular traffic from entering. Thus, they make the web page crash and return an error message to potential buyers.

Two main types of volumetric DDoS attacks are as follows-

  • UDP floods – UDP stands for User Datagram Protocol. Such an attack sends fake USD packets to the remote hosting server with altered IP addresses that match the victim's address. Because the response is empty, the hosting system generates several error messages.
  • ICMP floods- ICMP stands for Internet Control Message Protocol. Such an attack delivers bogus requests to the server as a sequence of ICMP packets. It keeps overwhelming the network without waiting for a reply from the server. As a result, the system is unable to react to routine user requests.

2. Protocol attacks

These attacks are intended to target data transport and connection verification protocols. The attacker sends corrupted and slow pings, and the network consumes the majority of its capacity attempting to verify the requests. As a result, the network becomes unable to respond to legitimate requests. Protocol DDoS attacks also target firewalls, since they may readily bypass poorly designed ones by delivering enormous volumes of data. In terms of data volume, cyber security professionals estimate the breadth of protocol DDoS attacks in packets per second (PPS) or bits per second (BPS).

3. Application layer attacks

Application-layer attacks target individual user-facing applications rather than the entire network. Here, the attackers produce massive volumes of traffic across the HTTP and HTTPS protocols. This is to match the normal traffic received by the application. The server then devotes all of its resources to respond to those bogus requests. This causes the application to become overburdened and unreachable to legitimate users. Application-layer attacks include those that target only the login component on a website or the shopping check-out page.

Now that you have got enough information about DDoS attacks and their impact, let’s turn our attention to how to prevent such attacks.

How to prevent DDoS attacks?

You have heard a million times that prevention is the greatest method to secure your assets from any type of cyberattack. The same holds for DDoS attacks as well. Here are some best practices that cybersecurity experts recommend all businesses to implement:

Establish a DDoS Response Plan

If your organisation is under a DDoS attack, your response must be quick enough to limit the damage and stabilise your systems. A well-designed response strategy will guide your team to act promptly in the event of an emergency. We have discussed above that DDoS attacks are not like other types of cyber intrusions. Therefore, you need a unique response plan if you don't want cyber criminals to catch you off guard.

First, a response strategy should designate a team of people who will be responsible for putting it into action. This team should include members from diverse departments, such as the IT security team, engineers, and HR/ public relations professionals. Your plan should include the measures required to identify and contain the source of the attack to minimise contamination. The next step would be to analyse the extent of the damage before beginning to repair your devices and networks.

To avoid spreading fear, your HR team should support you with proper internal communications in the meantime. These should aim towards educating the employees on how to handle the incident. Public relations professionals may be hired to handle external communications and ensure that the appropriate amount of details reach the public.

  • Strengthen network security and infrastructure

When launching a DDoS attack on a firm, attackers usually look for loopholes in its security systems. Your goal should be to make sure they can not discover that potential entrance. This can be done by implementing the strongest network security procedures. You can start by identifying the finest software solutions that meet your specific requirements. The initial lines of protection may include a strong firewall, intrusion detection systems and anti-virus software. You may also consider adding extra levels of protection, such as endpoint security, anti-spam content filtering or online security solutions to guard against different threats.

You should also safeguard your network infrastructure and configure your devices to deal with sudden and unexpected traffic increases. This gives you time to investigate the odd traffic flow and respond before your network becomes overburdened. The market also provides technology solutions for preventing DDoS attacks. Consult with your cyber security specialists to determine the most efficient solutions for your organisation.

  • Keep regular track of your network traffic

Unless you regularly monitor your network traffic and check for symptoms of a DDoS attack, you will not be able to respond in time. Remember that this form of attack causes a sudden rush of traffic. In the meantime, the criminals may release a minor attack to see whether it goes unnoticed in your system. These traffic spikes should be seen as warning flags by your team. Other signs of a DDoS attack may include excessive demand for a single program on your website, when you are not conducting any special events. You may also look for any occasion web crashes, unreliable connectivity and slow page performance. Instruct your team to respond immediately if any such suspicious behaviour is detected. That should give you enough time to avoid a major incident of a DDoS attack.

  • Employ Best Security Practices

Any cyber security expert would tell you that you should alter your passwords on a regular basis and ask all your workers to follow suit. Adding a multifactor authentication system to your network and accounts is also a recommended practice to add an extra degree of security. We have already discussed how critical it is to respond quickly to a cyber crisis. you should also train everyone on your team to spot the indicators of a cyberattack and report them to the concerned team. You should also train your users on how to use your application appropriately and provide them with a mechanism to report any issues they may experience.

Another important measure is to get appropriate software for your business and keep it up to date always. You might need to consult with an expert to help you choose the best software solution for your business and maintain it.

Use Multiple Servers and Cloud Protection

Your key defence lines are the software and hardware installed on your premises. However, their capacities are restricted and this is why you should think about expanding your system protection to the cloud. With their firewalls and threat monitoring tools, cloud providers provide numerous layers of protection. It also provides additional bandwidth, allowing your website to manage more traffic than any private network. they provide all these while ensuring the website's stability.

Clouds, by design, run on numerous servers that are not in the same location. This means if one becomes overburdened and fails, the others will continue to function and therefore, your website as well. Clouds also store safe backups of your data, making it easy to switch to a safer version if your system is corrupted by a DDoS attack.

  • Perform security assessments

Regular security audits are critical for identifying flaws in your network and connected devices. Make it a routine to conduct these assessments every quarter, or at least once every six months. This will help you address any vulnerabilities or loopholes in your security system before fraudsters can exploit them.

The footnote: We hope the discussion above will help you understand what a DDoS attack is, and how big a threat it is fast becoming for businesses in India and worldwide. We have also discussed how to prevent such attacks. Cyber insurance is one ‘safety net’ coming from the insurance industry to help businesses threatened by the increasing growth of all types of cyber attacks, including DDoS attacks.

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