What is a DDoS, or a distributed denial of service attack?

There has been a lot of buzz as of late regarding DDoS, Distributed (referring to more than one entity) Denial of Service attacks, but do you know what they are or how they work? At the most basic level, DDoS attacks attempt to cause networks to become unavailable by jamming them by two or more bots or people flooding the victim server with bogus requests. Sometimes it’s hundreds or thousands of attacks at once which makes the idea of blocking a single detected IP address impossible. The attackers or bots overwhelm the victim server with authentication requests that have an invalid return email address. The server then tries to find the email address to send the authentication approval back to, but since it’s not a valid email address, it waits in anticipation of eventually finding it before it actually closes the connection.

By the time the connection is closed, another authentication request from the attacker has been sent and the loop continues. This onslaught of useless traffic cripples servers and halts activity. When it’s caused by one bot or person it’s referred to as a DoS attack. In both scenarios, the method remains the same. According to Chris Preimesberger in an article in Eweek.com, there are 28 new DoS or DDoS attacks launched every hour. DoS or DDoS attacks tend to focus on businesses but there is a growing trend of the use of denial attacks being used as “internet street protests” used by disgruntled players in games like Minecraft or League of Legends. DDoS attacks are so common because they are so easy to pull off and are scarily effective. They have crippled major corporations like Google, PayPal, and Visa, to name but a few, and the list continues to grow. One of the most startling features of any DDoS attack is that your computer may be part of an attacking botnet, or rather an infected network of computers being manipulated to covertly attack other computers. You may never know that your PC has been turned into a zombie, (no really, that’s what its called) potentially attacking other computers!

History of DDoS attacks
The earliest known DDoS attack was seen at Panix, then NY States’ oldest and largest internet service provider in 1996. The attack was derived from seemingly random IP addresses and attacked the SMTP ports, flooding them with about 150 requests per second. Panix was able to overcome the attack but clearly, a new breed of internet terror had been created.
The first major DoS attack was created in 2000 by 15-year-old Michael Calce who took down the servers of Yahoo, at the time the top search engine, as well as the servers of CNN, Dell, Amazon, and eBay. Calce later tried to claim that he was unaware that his computer had caused the crash of the aforementioned companies’ servers but the youth court in his home city of Montreal didn’t buy his story and sentenced him to eight months of open custody and one-year probation.

Politics and DDoS
DDoS attacks made headlines in 2007 when Russian nationals living in Estonia, purportedly along with the aid of the Russian Government, flooded servers of the websites of the Government of Estonia after a controversial wartime monument was moved. Earlier this year, Github, the playground for developers testing code, was apparently attacked by the Chinese Government for unclear reasons.

The list goes on and on… 
Then there are countless examples of famous DDoS attacks like LizardSquad’s December attack of Sony PlayStation and Xbox. Financial institutions, software developers and small businesses are attacked on a regular basis. This is an evolving and growing trend, one that business owners must stay vigilant against to survive.

What you can do to prevent DDoS and DoS attacks
There are a few things a business owner can do to stay safe that can save untold amounts of money and heartache which are beyond the scope of this article.
What you can right now keep your computer from becoming part of a botnet, or a zombie computer which can be used to deliver DDoS attacks:

Update and install OS system patches regularly. Don’t ignore Windows patch updates, they are for your own good.
Install a strong malware blocker like Reason Antivirus that scans your computer regularly and comes with Unchecky power to keep dangerous adware away as well.
Keep your firewall on at all times and make sure it’s secure.
Use flash drives sparingly and only when you are sure you know all the files on them are safe.
Use your head and stay away from suspicious email attachments and shady downloads.
Above all stay vigilant and when things aren’t as they should be on your computer, ask yourself why – and don’t stop until you find your answer. It could just save your business or someone else’s.