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.

Eric Escobar,
April 3, 2013
Episode #071


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!>

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.

How Cyberbunker Took Down Spamhaus

The reason that this attack is such a big deal is because of its sheer size and the impact that it had on the entire internet. At its height, the DDoS attack was flooding Spamhaus with 300GB of data every second. To put this in perspective – that’s the equivalent to streaming 60,000 HD movies from Netflix all at the same time!

This was so much traffic that it actually slowed down entire portions of the internet! That’s right, it actually slowed down the internet itself.

Luckily, Spamhaus enlisted a company called CloudFlare to help with the attack. Other companies such as Google also helped defend against the attack by making their resources available. In order to accommodate the huge amount of traffic CloudFlare opened up 23 of its world wide data centers to absorb all of the traffic.

So you’re probably thinking, well Tech Talker thanks for the history lesson, but this internet war being waged doesn’t really involve me at all.

Don’t be so sure.

Think about this: How exactly did the attacker get enough resources to actually slow down a big chunk of the entire internet? As I explained in my episode Anatomy of a Virus, oftentimes attackers will add malware into pirated software that makes your computer a slave. It’s extremely likely that the majority of this attack was carried out by computers like yours and mine that were unwittingly running this malware.

This is why it’s extremely important to trust the software you install, and to keep an updated anti-virus. This will help to keep your computer safe from being used as a pawn in any sort of hacker attack.

See Also: How to Easily Delete Viruses

If that wasn’t enough, a Tech Talker listener wrote in just a few days ago with a story about how a rogue individual from a chat room flooded her computer’s internet connection which caused it to slow severely. In this case, it sounds like she was on the receiving end of a much smaller version of a Denial of Service attack. The best way to deal with this is to contact your internet service provider and inform them of the situation. From there they can either block the traffic or change your IP address.

Here are your 4 Quick and Dirty Tips for keeping clear of DoS attacks:

  1. Keep your computer protected with updated anti-virus software.

  2. Make sure that any software you install on your computer comes from a reliable source.

  3. Don’t download or use pirated software.

  4. If you believe your home network is the target of a DoS attack, contact your ISP right away.

Have you ever experience a DoS attack? Tell us about it in the comments section of the Tech Talker web site, or post your comments on the Tech Talker Facebook page.

Well, that’s it for today! Be sure to check out all my earlier episodes at techtalker.quickanddirtytips.com. And if you have further questions about this podcast or want to make a suggestion for a future episode, post them on Facebook.com/QDTtechtalker.

Until next time, I’m the Tech Talker, keeping technology simple!

Denial of Service photo from Shutterstock.