Here’s a question: when was the last time you got something truly useful for free? Like that time it turned out your phone company was giving you mobile data even though it wasn’t included in the plan you selected, or that time you turned up at the car dealership for a major repair, and they informed you the cost was covered because you’re just such a great customer.
Oh right: it was never.
So why is it that so many companies seem to think somebody else is responsible for protecting them against distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks? DDoS mitigation is an important and complex service that requires careful expertise, on-demand or always-on deployment, nearly limitless scalability and huge amounts of network bandwidth. If a company hasn’t taken the steps to invest in this kind of protection, they don’t have it.
A DDoS attack is a distributed denial of service attack, which is a cyberattack that uses a botnet, a network of internet-connected devices that have been hijacked for remote use, to direct large amounts of malicious traffic at a website that has been targeted. This traffic overwhelms the website, its server or its resources to take it offline or render it so frustratingly slow it can’t be used.
Distributed denial of service attacks have been a problem for websites and organizations of all sizes for over 15 years, and the problem is becoming a crisis as DDoS for hire services steadily gain popularity, and botnets steadily gain in size due to unsecured Internet of Things devices. For larger organizations, a successful DDoS attack can cost between $20,000 and $100,000 per hour, and while unquantifiable, the loss of user trust or loyalty that can result from such an attack can be even worse.
DDoS attacks haven’t exactly been flying under the radar lately. Their frequency, as well as the threat they pose, should be well known to anyone working in online security. Yet a recent survey by Kaspersky uncovered some staggering statistics. Thirty percent of companies surveyed indicated that they haven’t taken action against the threat of DDoS attacks because they believe they won’t be targeted, 40% believe their ISP will provide protection, and a further 30% believe data centers will provide protection. Perhaps most misguided of all, 12% believe a small amount of DDoS-caused downtime would not have a negative impact on the company.
Why ISPs won’t provide complete protection
While some ISPs do provide complete DDoS protection as an added service that clients pay good money for, most provide only partial protection. Due to the large amounts of bandwidth an ISP has available, they can do well against large volumetric attacks, but craftier application layer attacks are a problem. Also, while ISPs can be good at identifying malicious traffic, they don’t deal with that malicious traffic efficiently, meaning that while it’s struggling to deal with an influx of malicious traffic, legitimate traffic will be caught in the bottleneck with it or even discarded alongside the bad traffic, resulting in users unable to get through to the website. In other words, while a basic DDoS attack could be thwarted by an ISP, the result – users unable to access the website – ends up being the same.
Further, some DDoS attacks like the Slowloris are made up of traffic and requests that are seemingly legitimate, making them difficult to detect for even some intrusion detection systems, let alone an ISP.
Perhaps the biggest problem with relying on an ISP for protection is that regardless of what type of attack is launched, there isn’t going to be a quick response from an ISP. They aren’t built for the kind of real-time monitoring and deployment that can catch an attack within seconds. Most often, it will be several hours before an ISP begins to deal with an attack. By then, the damage is done.
Why data centers won’t provide complete protection either
There’s a caveat here: just as with ISPs, some data centers do provide complete protection against distributed denial of service attacks, but again it is an added service that definitely adds to the data center bill. Similar to ISPs, data centers do provide some measure of DDoS protection, but it can generally only protect against basic attacks that can be stopped with rate limiters, or attacks that are not directly aimed at an application service. Large or complex attacks cannot be stopped by basic data center protection.
Moreover, not only do ISPs and data centers not provide complete protection against DDoS attacks, but they also put their clients at a bigger risk of second-hand DDoS damage. If an ISP or data center is struggling with a large or complex attack, websites that weren’t targeted will nonetheless suffer the effects.
Professional DDoS protection is built to provide the quickest, most proactive and most complete protection against distributed denial of service attacks. Cloud-based protection is especially excellent at protecting against both network-layer and application-layer attacks, and with the use of a scrubbing server, attack traffic will be kept from ever touching the target website while legitimate traffic is let through unfettered.
For companies after a more bang-for-their-buck solution, it may be preferable to look into a quality content delivery network (CDN). CDNs are designed to improve site speed and performance, and all CDNs offer some level of DDoS protection due to the built-in load balancing that comes from their multi-server environments. However, CDNs will also offer additional DDoS protection on top of that.
High-quality distributed denial of service protection won’t become a freebie or throw-in until the internet reaches a phase where there’s something so much worse and so much more common than DDoS attacks that they become almost after-thoughts for all the malicious cyberattackers out there. So companies can either root for that reality, or take protection into their own hands by investing in solid DDoS protection.