Distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks are malicious attempts to disrupt the normal functioning of a targeted network, server, or website by overwhelming it with a flood of internet traffic.

When a network, server, or website is overwhelmed by a DDoS attack, it can significantly impede business operations. The direct impact is downtime, where the targeted system becomes unavailable or unresponsive. This downtime prevents users or customers from accessing services or information, impacting customer satisfaction and damaging the organization’s reputation.

Distributed Denial of Service/DDoS Attacks

Moreover, such disruptions can lead to substantial financial losses. According to a study by Kaspersky Lab, the average economic impact of a DDoS attack for large businesses was estimated at $2 million in 2019. The average cost for small and medium-sized companies was around $120,000 per attack.

Furthermore, DDoS attacks can also serve as a smokescreen for more insidious cyberattacks, allowing attackers to breach the network and steal sensitive information. At the same time, IT teams are preoccupied with mitigating the DDoS attack.

As for the prevalence of DDoS attacks, they remain a significant threat to businesses worldwide. According to NETSCOUT’s Threat Intelligence Report for the first half of 2021, there were 5.4 million DDoS attacks recorded globally, an 11% increase compared to the same period in 2020. The increasing prevalence and sophistication of DDoS attacks highlight the importance of robust DDoS mitigation strategies and measures.

This article explores the intricacies of DDoS attacks, their types, methods, prevention, and mitigation strategies.

DDoS Attack Mechanics

To understand the severity and impact of DDoS attacks, it is essential to understand the mechanisms that drive these attacks and how they function.

DDoS Attack Characteristics and Techniques

Before delving into the specific characteristics of DDoS attacks, it’s crucial to recognize that they employ various techniques to disrupt targeted systems. These techniques are designed to exploit vulnerabilities, consume resources, and cause disruptions in services, ultimately resulting in financial and reputational loss. DDoS attacks typically exhibit the following characteristics:

Large Traffic Volume: Overwhelming the Target’s Resources

The main objective of a DDoS attack is to generate massive network traffic that overwhelms the target’s resources, making it difficult or impossible for legitimate users to access the system. This enormous traffic volume is typically achieved through compromised devices, such as botnets, and various attack techniques, which substantially strain the target’s bandwidth and processing capabilities.

Geographically Distributed: Difficulty in Identifying and Blocking Sources

A distinct challenge in mitigating DDoS attacks is their geographically distributed nature. Attackers often use multiple devices and networks from various locations worldwide to launch the attack, making it more difficult for organizations to identify and block the sources. This distributed approach not only increases the scale of the attack but also complicates efforts to trace the origins and implement effective countermeasures.

Multiple Attack Vectors: Targeting Different Vectors Within the Target Network or System

DDoS attacks often employ multiple attack vectors, using techniques and tools to target various aspects of the targeted network or system. By exploiting different vulnerabilities and weaknesses, attackers can increase the likelihood of a successful attack, making it more challenging for organizations to defend against. This multi-vector approach underscores the importance of comprehensive security measures that address various potential threats to protect against DDoS attacks.

DDoS attacks employ various techniques to achieve their goals, such as:

SYN Flood: Disrupting Connections by Exploiting Synchronization

In a synchronization (SYN) flood attack, the attacker sends multiple SYN packets to the target, initiating a connection request. The target system responds with synchronization acknowledged (SYN-ACK) packets and waits for the final acknowledgment (ACK) packets to complete the connection. However, the attacker never sends the ACK packets, causing the target to allocate resources for never-complete connections. This process eventually overwhelms the target’s resources, leading to service disruptions and potential system crashes.

UDP Flood: Overloading Resources With Unnecessary Traffic

A User Datagram Protocol (UDP) flood attack involves the attacker sending numerous UDP packets to random ports on the target system. The target system receives these packets and tries to process them, but since no corresponding applications are listening on those ports, it sends “Destination Unreachable” messages back to the source. This process consumes a significant amount of the target’s resources, ultimately causing the system to become unresponsive or crash.

HTTP Flood: Overwhelming Web Servers With Excessive Requests

Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) flood attacks target web servers by sending many HTTP requests, overwhelming the server’s resources and rendering it unresponsive. The attacker usually uses multiple sources to send these requests, making identifying and blocking the attack traffic difficult. HTTP flood attacks can be divided into two categories: GET flood attacks, where attackers send numerous HTTP GET requests, and POST flood attacks, where attackers send many HTTP POST requests with large content payloads. Both types aim to exhaust the target server’s resources, leading to service disruption and downtime.

Types of Distributed Denial-of-Service Attacks

Understanding the different types of DDoS attacks is crucial in developing an effective defense strategy. There are three main DDoS attacks, each targeting an additional network layer and employing specific techniques to disrupt services.

Application Layer Attacks: Disrupting Web Applications and Services

Application layer attacks, also known as Layer 7 attacks, target the application layer of a network, specifically web applications, and services. These attacks focus on consuming the target server’s resources by sending many requests or initiating connections, eventually causing the server to crash or become unresponsive.

Examples of application layer attacks include HTTP flood attacks, where attackers send numerous HTTP requests to overwhelm the server, and Slowloris attacks, which involve opening and maintaining multiple connections to the target server without fully completing the connection process, thus consuming server resources and causing service disruption.

Protocol Layer Attacks: Exploiting Network Protocol Vulnerabilities

Protocol layer attacks, also known as Layer 3 and Layer 4 attacks, exploit vulnerabilities in network protocols to overwhelm the target’s resources. These attacks primarily focus on consuming the target’s bandwidth, processing power, and memory by sending many malformed or malicious packets.

Common examples of protocol layer attacks include SYN flood attacks, which exploit the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) handshake process to consume resources, and UDP flood attacks, which involve sending a large number of UDP packets to random ports on the target system, leading to resource overloading and potential system crashes.

Volume-based Attacks: Saturating Bandwidth With Massive Traffic

Volume-based attacks are designed to saturate the target’s bandwidth by flooding it with vast traffic. These attacks generate an immense volume of packets or data, making it difficult for the target system to process legitimate requests and causing service disruptions.

Examples of volume-based attacks include Internet Control Message Protocol (ICMP) floods, where attackers send numerous ICMP packets to the target, causing it to be overwhelmed with traffic, and Domain Name System (DNS) amplification attacks, which involve sending small DNS queries with spoofed source IP addresses to DNS servers, which in turn respond with more significant DNS responses, amplifying the traffic volume and overwhelming the target’s bandwidth.

DDoS Attack Risk Mitigation

Organizations can implement various measures to prevent and mitigate DDoS attacks, ensuring continued operations and safeguarding valuable content like personally identifiable information and protected health information (PII/PHI) and intellectual property.

Create a Comprehensive DDoS Response Plan

Developing a thorough DDoS response plan is critical in minimizing the impact of DDoS attacks on an organization’s operations and assets. A comprehensive response plan should include the following components:

Identify Key Assets and Vulnerabilities to Protect Critical Resources

The first step in creating a DDoS response plan is identifying the organization’s critical assets and assessing their vulnerabilities. This process involves determining which systems, applications, and services are most vital to the organization’s operations and understanding how they could be targeted in a DDoS attack. Organizations can prioritize their defense efforts and allocate resources by identifying these assets and vulnerabilities.

Establish a DDoS Attack Detection and Monitoring System

Organizations should implement a robust attack detection and monitoring system to minimize the impact of DDoS attacks. This system should include network monitoring tools, intrusion detection systems (IDS), and intrusion prevention systems (IPS) to quickly identify and respond to potential DDoS attacks. Early detection and response are critical in mitigating the damage caused by DDoS attacks and maintaining the availability of essential systems and services.

Develop Incident Response Procedures

Organizations can ensure a timely and efficient response to DDoS attacks by having a clear set of incident response procedures. An effective DDoS response plan should include well-defined incident response procedures. These procedures should outline the roles and responsibilities of various team members, the steps to be taken during a DDoS attack, and the communication channels for coordination and information sharing.

Implement Network Security Measures by Building a Robust Defense Infrastructure

In addition to detection and response capabilities, a comprehensive DDoS response plan should include robust network security measures. These measures can help prevent or mitigate the impact of DDoS attacks by blocking malicious traffic and ensuring the availability of critical systems and services. Some key network security measures include firewalls, intrusion detection and prevention strategies, traffic filtering, content delivery networks (CDNs), and collaboration with internet service providers (ISPs).

Regularly Test and Update the DDoS Response Plan

To maintain the effectiveness of a DDoS response plan, it is essential to conduct regular tests and updates. This process should involve simulating DDoS attacks to assess the organization’s detection, response, and recovery capabilities and identify areas for improvement. Additionally, the response plan should be reviewed and updated regularly to account for changes in the organization’s assets, vulnerabilities, and threat landscape. By continuously refining and updating the DDoS response plan, organizations can ensure their preparedness and resilience in the face of evolving DDoS threats.

Deploy Network Security Measures

Organizations must deploy robust security and compliance measures to defend against DDoS attacks and mitigate their impact effectively. These measures should focus on preventing or minimizing the damage caused by malicious traffic while maintaining the availability of critical systems and services. The following sections outline key network security measures to consider:

Configure Firewalls to Block Malicious Traffic and Allow Legitimate Access

Firewalls play a crucial role in defending against DDoS attacks by filtering network traffic based on predefined rules. Properly configured firewalls can block malicious traffic, such as that generated by DDoS attacks, while allowing legitimate traffic to pass through. Organizations should regularly review and update their firewall rules to ensure optimal protection against evolving DDoS threats.

Implement Intrusion Detection Systems to Monitor for Signs of DDoS Attacks

Intrusion detection systems (IDS) are essential for monitoring network traffic and identifying potential DDoS attacks. By analyzing network traffic patterns and comparing them to known attack signatures, IDS can trigger alerts when signs of a DDoS attack are detected. Timely detection of DDoS attacks is critical for initiating an effective response and minimizing their impact on the organization.

Deploy Intrusion Prevention Systems to Automatically Block DDoS Attack Traffic

Intrusion prevention systems (IPS) build upon the capabilities of IDS by automatically blocking detected DDoS attack traffic. This proactive approach helps prevent DDoS attacks from reaching their target systems and consuming valuable resources. IPS should be regularly updated with the latest attack signatures and configured to block known DDoS attack techniques.

Apply Traffic Filtering Techniques to Distinguish Between Legitimate and Malicious Traffic

Implementing effective traffic filtering measures can significantly reduce the impact of DDoS attacks on an organization’s systems and services. Traffic filtering techniques can help organizations differentiate between legitimate and malicious traffic, allowing them to block the latter while ensuring uninterrupted access for legitimate users. These techniques may include rate limiting, IP address blocking, and deep packet inspection.

Utilize Content Delivery Networks to Distribute Traffic Across Multiple Servers

Content delivery networks (CDNs) are valuable tools for mitigating the impact of DDoS attacks by distributing traffic across multiple servers. By spreading the load, CDNs can help prevent any single server from becoming overwhelmed by DDoS attack traffic, ensuring the continued availability of critical systems and services. In addition, CDNs often have built-in security features that can help protect against DDoS attacks and other threats.

Collaborate With Internet Service Providers

Working closely with internet service providers (ISPs) is crucial to defending against DDoS attacks and mitigating their impact. ISPs can provide valuable resources and support in the event of a DDoS attack, helping organizations maintain the availability of their systems and services. The following sections outline key aspects of collaborating with ISPs:

Establish Communication Channels to Streamline Information Sharing and Coordination

Effective communication with ISPs is essential for a timely and coordinated response to DDoS attacks. Organizations should establish clear communication channels with their ISPs, including designated points of contact and preferred methods of communication. This streamlined coordination can help both parties respond more effectively to DDoS attacks and minimize their impact.

Discuss DDoS Mitigation Strategies by Leveraging ISP Resources and Expertise

ISPs often have extensive experience and resources for dealing with DDoS attacks, making them valuable partners in developing and implementing DDoS mitigation strategies. Organizations can create more robust and effective DDoS defense measures by leveraging their ISPs’ expertise. Organizations should engage their ISPs in discussions about DDoS mitigation options, such as traffic filtering, rate limiting, and traffic redirection.

Implement Traffic Redirection Solutions to Divert DDoS Attack Traffic Away From Target Systems

ISPs can provide traffic redirection solutions that help divert DDoS attack traffic from target systems, minimizing the impact on the organization’s infrastructure. These solutions may include techniques such as sink holing, where malicious traffic is redirected to a “sinkhole” server that absorbs the attack, or scrubbing, where traffic is redirected through a cleaning center that filters out malicious traffic before forwarding legitimate traffic to its destination. Implementing these traffic redirection solutions can significantly reduce the impact of DDoS attacks on an organization’s systems and services.

Review Service Level Agreements to Ensure DDoS Protection and Support

Organizations should carefully review their service level agreements (SLAs) with ISPs to ensure they include DDoS protection and support provisions. SLAs should clearly outline the ISP’s responsibilities and obligations during a DDoS attack, including response times, mitigation measures, and communication protocols. By ensuring their SLAs provide comprehensive DDoS protection and support, organizations can better prepare for and respond to DDoS attacks.

Ensure Robust Data Security and Privacy

In addition to protecting against DDoS attacks, organizations must ensure robust data security and privacy for their users and customers. Safeguarding sensitive information is critical to maintaining trust and compliance with relevant regulations, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The following sections outline key aspects of ensuring data security and privacy:

Strong Encryption Measures Protect Data in Transit and at Rest

Organizations can protect against data breaches and unauthorized access to sensitive information by employing robust encryption measures. Strong encryption measures protect sensitive content in transit and at rest. Organizations should implement industry-standard encryption protocols, such as SSL/TLS for data transmission and AES for stored documents, to ensure their document remains secure and confidential.

Access Control Policies Reduce Exposure to Sensitive Information

Organizations can minimize the risk of data breaches and unauthorized access to sensitive information by implementing strong access control policies. Effective access control policies can help organizations limit access to sensitive documents, ensuring only authorized individuals can view or modify it. These policies should define user roles, permissions, and authentication mechanisms to provide a clear and secure framework for data access.

Regularly Monitor and Audit Content Access

Regularly monitoring and auditing data access is critical for detecting and preventing unauthorized activities that could compromise data security and privacy. Organizations can quickly identify and address potential security risks and maintain robust data security and privacy by continuously monitoring and auditing data access. Organizations should implement logging and auditing tools to track data access and modifications and establish processes for reviewing and analyzing this information.

A Comprehensive Data Security Policy Sets a Framework for Data Protection

A comprehensive data security policy is essential for ensuring consistent and effective protection of sensitive information. By developing a complete data security policy, organizations can establish a clear framework for document protection and ensure that all employees understand their role in maintaining data security and privacy. This policy should outline the organization’s data protection goals, responsibilities, and processes.

Regulatory Compliance Meets Legal and Ethical Obligations

Organizations must ensure that data security and privacy measures comply with relevant data protection regulations, such as GDPR, HIPAA, UK Cyber Essentials Plus, and IRAP. Compliance with these regulations is a legal obligation essential to maintaining trust with users and customers. By adhering to data protection regulations and implementing robust content security and privacy measures, organizations can demonstrate their commitment to safeguarding sensitive information and minimizing the risk of data breaches.

Defend Against DDoS Attacks and Ensure Content Security With Kiteworks

Mitigating DDoS attacks and protecting sensitive information are essential for organizations to maintain trust and compliance with industry regulations and standards. The Kiteworks Private Content Network offers a comprehensive solution that safeguards customer data, financial documents, contracts, and other confidential content whenever it’s accessed, shared, sent, or received. This extra layer of protection at the content level mitigates the risk of critical data loss in the event of a DDoS attack. Kiteworks features robust encryption, a hardened virtual appliance, stringent access control policies, and regular monitoring and audit logging capabilities to ensure the highest content security and privacy compliance.

As a trusted platform chosen by thousands of organizations, Kiteworks provides the ideal solution to protect sensitive content in the event of a DDoS attack.

Schedule a customized demo to learn how Kiteworks can help prevent your most confidential information from cyberattacks and unauthorized access.


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