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What Is a DDoS Attack?

Tech Talker explains the largest DDoS attack in internet history. Plus, how can you protect your computer from hackers and malware.

By
Eric Escobar,
April 3, 2013
Episode #071

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Well, my friends, internet history has been made – and no, I’m not talking about the number of hits on that latest viral video of cats playing the drums. This past week the largest distributed denial of service attack was carried out. It was so massive that it affected a large chunk of the internet.

In this week’s episode, I’ll be covering just how this attack happened, how it was stopped, and how you can prevent this sort of attack from happening to you!

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What Is a DDoS Attack?

Before we can understand just how groundbreaking this recent attack was, let’s first go over exactly what a denial of service attack is. It is one of the least complicated attacks that a hacker can pull off. Basically the goal is to shut down a webserver or connection to the internet. Hackers accomplish this by flooding the server with an extremely large amount of traffic.

It would be like taking a wide open freeway and packing it full of the worst rush hour traffic you could imagine. Every connection to and from the freeway would grind to a halt. This would make visiting the website (or the road) next to impossible, or at the least extremely slow! In some cases, the server might overload and shut down completely.

When this happens, it doesn’t mean that the website was necessarily hacked. It just means that the website was kicked off the internet for a period of time. This may not sound like that big of a deal, but if your company relies heavily on its online presence, this interruption of service could take a huge cut out of profits.

DoS v. DDoS

The next item to be clarified is the difference between a DoS (Denial of Service) attack and a DDoS or (Distributed Denial of Service) attack. This distinction is pretty simple: a DoS attack comes from one network or computer whereas a DDoS comes from multiple computers or networks. DDoS attacks are most always bigger than a DoS attack because the strength of the attack can be multiplied by a huge amount of computers.

Now that we know what this terminology means and how these attacks can cripple a web site, let’s look at this most recent example. This attack targeted the website Spamhaus. You’ve probably never heard of Spamhaus, but it is the internet user’s friend because it keeps your inbox clean from the billions of spam emails that roam the internet. Without Spamhaus, you might receive one hundred times the amount of spam that you already do. The attack was allegedly carried out by a Dutch hosting company called Cyberbunker. Some sources note that this was in retaliation for Spamhaus blocking some of this company’s content. None of this has been proven, but it’s pretty obvious that the entity behind this attack had some serious muscle.

Let’s talk about the scale of this attack.

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