Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks attempt to flood a server with so many requests that they render a website useless. The effects are many, from lost customer conversions and revenue to punished SEO ranking and blacklisting.
The reality is that DDoS attack methods and the criminals behind them are evolving. Understanding this evolution is key to making sure companies that place any sort of importance on their websites stay protected.
The type and style of attack is changing – there are headless browsers and application layer attacks, and DDoS attacks as cover for more sinister cyberattacks.
Every reseller with security in the portfolio needs to understand that DDoS is not a static problem that can be dealt with and then ignored. It changes, and the tactics for defending against this type of attack need to advance even faster.
Better general awareness about DDoS attacks has forced attackers to develop new ways to get around the basic defences.
Media attention on high-profile DDoS attacks attracts activists with a message. Groups try to outdo one another in a bid for attention.
A growing variety of coding practices, web platforms and web design features have multiplied the number of variables which can result in application exploits, rendering a website useless.
With more access to high-CPU devices available through the cloud and dedicated hosting, DDoS attackers can now use those CPUs to run more sophisticated attacks.
For these reasons, we are seeing more sophistication in attack style, meaning there is less volume and attackers are targeting very specific vulnerabilities in a website by doing their homework to make sure they target the weakest points.
One of the stealthiest methods is headless browsers. These can be a clever way for cybercriminals to get around standard DDoS protection and masquerade as legitimate web traffic.
The kit itself is used for programmers to test their websites, so to all intents and purposes, it is a legitimate browser web kit, just modified to run a series of queries and target basic web user interfaces.
Detection is difficult and stopping a headless browser DDoS attack can take a trained professional to spot and remediate it.
This will be a big problem for more traditional DDoS protection, such as box solutions. What will be most effective here is real-time support, where there is a human involved who can develop some rule sets to determine what is going on and implement the modules within seconds.
Application layer attacks are also becoming more prevalent, although you might not even notice them, if you don’t know what you are looking for.
Attackers are getting better at reconnaissance and research, facilitating smarter attacks that can keep the volume low and under the radar, meanwhile killing the site in the background and fooling IT into spending time on the wrong part of the site when it is down.
It is these application attacks and headless browser attacks that we see as the biggest concern for the future.
I can only surmise that media hype is fuelling the focus on volumetric DDoS attacks, which is where the industry seems to be concentrating to meet customer expectations.
Actually there is a rise in application attacks and we should be educating companies about these threats, as they indicate serious consequences for businesses that place any sort of importance on their websites.
Jag Bains is chief technology officer of DOSarrest