If your business has ever suffered through a Distributed Denial of Services (DDoS) attack, it’s was likely experience you haven’t forgotten, as much as you might like to. For your website, a DDoS attack is like being paralyzed – your website becomes unable to respond to the simplest request, your PCI-compliant online store is completely unusable by paying customers, everything that makes your business go suddenly grinds to a halt like you’re stuck in the world’s worst traffic jam.
If you’ve heard about but never experienced a DDoS attack, count yourself lucky. These malicious actions are carried out by multiple bots or “zombie” computers who send superfluous requests to a computer or website to disrupt service. They gobble up bandwidth and make it impossible for legitimate requests to get through.
But who are the people behind these DDoS attacks, and what compels them to perpetrate such malicious acts against seemingly innocent victims?
The answers to that question are surprisingly diverse. Some do it for the fame, others for fortune and still more for nefarious reasons designed to unhinge industries or even governments. Let’s take a deep dive into the six biggest reasons that people commit DDoS attacks.
Hacking has evolved from the days of the 1980s, when it was mostly a harmless way to test your computer skills, but some of its basic tenets have remained, including the simple desire to show off your abilities. Hackers tend to cluster in groups, and pulling off a successful DDoS attack can not only get a hacker an invitation to one of these groups, but also enhance their status within the group. If it sounds a bit like initiation into a street gang, it is. When you prove your mettle, you’re invited to take part in more expansive schemes.
Extortion has been around for all recorded history. It’s a simple shakedown – take someone’s property, then contact them for its safe return. Hackers using DDoS attacks take that a step farther, disabling websites and demanding money in exchange for a cease to the attack. Some don’t even bother with the DDoS attack; they contact companies beforehand and flex their digital muscles to show what they’re capable of. This form of attack can be really detrimental to small-to-medium sized businesses (SMBs) because they have far less money to spend on Internet security than big corporations. If it sounds like the mafia leaning on local businesses for ‘protection money,’ that’s exactly what it is. Most companies don’t know who to turn to when they are hacked or threatened with a hack. The threat of such a hack makes cloud computing, where your business’s key components, processes and data are stored off-site and protected by the cloud hosting company’s own security, an appealing alternative.
Companies go to great lengths to get a leg up on the competition, and for some that means resorting to war on the cyber level. When DDoS attacks first became prevalent, offshore gambling companies would hit at each other in the final moments before major sporting events like the Super Bowl, the Kentucky Derby or a heavyweight fight. As thousands of bettors place their wagers in the final moments before such an event, those gamblers would move their business to other gambling houses.
Yes, really. Online gaming environments are open season for DDoS attacks, either against the game itself or against one specific user. Popular third-party communication platforms like Skype are known to have weak security for protecting user IP addresses, which allows hackers to attack an individual on a game platform. This can be done to disrupt an individual’s game experience in order to augment someone else’s, or just as a malicious attack against the online gaming platform as a whole. In the summer of 2017, the popular online game Final Fantasy XIV tasy-14-started experiencing concentrated DDoS attacks, and its efforts to stop them were largely ineffectual; they were still a problem well into November.
Cyber warfare/Cyber terrorism
Cyber warfare sounds like the title to a good Tom Clancy novel, but it’s a very real and tremendously disruptive form of attack against banks, utility companies, corporations, and even entire governments. After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the CIA identified two terrorist organizations, Hamas and Hezbollah, as having the means and intent to use cyber attacks against critical parts of the US government. This is the evolution of terrorism. As governments heighten physical security – doing body and bag searches before you board an airplane or enter a building or stadium – terrorists seek out new battlefields to wreak havoc. It’s not just the “bad guys” using DDoS to disrupt their opposition. In October 2017, US President Donald Trump signed a directive to approve using DDoS attacks against North Korea’s Reconnaissance General Bureau, the nation’s military spy branch.’’
If you binge HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” you might remember back to the first season when the Lannisters send a thug with a knife to try and murder young Bran Stark in his sick bed. The criminal first sets fire to the library at Winterfell with the intent of drawing everyone there while he kills the young crippled prince, only to be defeated by Catelyn Stark and a certain direwolf. Using a DDoS attacks as a distraction while a real cybercrime is being committed has become a norm for hackers. The Kaspersky Lab IT Security Risks 2016 study gave strong statistical evidence to that postulation. More than one-half of the survey’s participants said they firmly believed that DDoS attacks were being used as smokescreens to commit crimes. A full 87% of businesses said they had been victims of a targeted attack in the past. A classic example of this type of diversion occurred in the the UK in 2015. Hackers flooded Carphone Warehouse with DDoS attacks to distract the cybersecurity team, then stole the personal information and banking information of 2.4 million customers.
As you can see, those who use DDoS attacks don’t fit into a single category when it comes to who they are or what their motivation. Thus if you’re looking for ways to protect your website and your business, hardening against DDoS attacks is a smart move. A hacker can be anyone from a disgruntled former employee, to an international agent, to a teenager looking to make a name for himself on the Internet. Whether your business and services are in the cloud or not, make sure your security is at a maximum to battle against DDoS attacks.