What is a Denial of Service Attack?

What is a Denial of Service Attack?

Denial-of-service (DoS) is a cyber security event that compromises the availability of a machine or network resource by flooding it with traffic. The attack is aimed at overwhelming the resources making it difficult for the intended users to gain access. As a result, the overload disrupts services temporarily or indefinitely. Unlike attacks that simply crash a server, DoS events are significantly harder to rectify.

Distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks typically originate from multiple sources. They cannot be counteracted by simply blocking a single one. These types of attacks also make it difficult to differentiate malicious and legitimate traffic.

DoS and DDoS attacks are usually motivated by activism, blackmail, or revenge as opposed to financial profit. The attacks may be aimed at harming an organization by affecting its operations. Meanwhile, criminal perpetrators generally prefer high-value targets like credit payment gateways and banks.

The United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) lists a number of guidelines for determining when a denial-of-service attack may be taking place.

Some of the tell-tale signs of an active DoS include:

  • Experiencing significant difficulty in accessing a website
  • Poor network performance, particularly when trying to access files or websites
  • An unusually high volume of spam email

Role of DoS attacks in cyber security

The DoS attack landscape is increasingly becoming complex, thus exerting tremendous pressure on security experts. Cyber security professionals need to design effective detection and defense solutions. Denial of service is still prevalent after nearly a decade since its birth, owing to its pervasive and destructive nature. The attackers typically employ an array of codes and tools.

Cyber security experts are continuously working to close the gaps for attackers by optimizing DoS protection planning. In some cases, they conduct mock attacks in small test bed environments with the aim to better understand DoS mechanisms.

Many attackers are exploiting security vulnerabilities associated with the Internet of Things (IoT) to launch DDoS attacks. This trend creates a new frontier for cyber security. IoT devices like televisions, routers, and refrigerators are alluring to attackers because many are shipped with insecure defaults. This includes remotely exploitable code, default administrative credentials, and open access to management systems.

Additionally, most embedded systems do not receive security updates. Some consumers rarely interface with the devices, which reduces the potential of detection. IoT botnets have been deployed in high-profile DDoS extortion attempts, to target organizations affiliated with the Rio Olympics, and to attack online gaming networks.

Education and the Fight against DoS Attacks

Education helps students develop basic and advanced cyber security skills. The knowledge can be used to fight different types of denial-of-service attacks.

Some of the important skills taught in the cyber security programs include:

  • Creating security procedures and policies
  • Detecting DoS attacks using tools like Wireshark
  • Monitoring and defending networks
  • Analyzing TCP SYN packets
  • Conducting penetration testing
  • Performing vulnerability analysis

Advanced training allows IT students to handle DoS protection planning with confidence. As a result, it becomes easier to achieve an early discovery of a denial-of-service attack and generate alerts. An effective DoS discovery strategy ensures that the monitoring system is appropriately positioned and configured. This is aimed at minimizing false positives.

Once an active attack has been positively identified, the next crucial step involves mounting a robust defensive mechanism. Cyber security degree programs educate students on different types of defense techniques. One way entails annihilating the DoS attack in its entirety. This approach ensures zero effect on the targeted machine or network resource.

The second defense action entails weakening the impact of the attack on resources. Doing so allows the system to resume normal operations faster, even if it means restoring services at reduced capacity. This option is usually more affordable and practical.

Defense techniques

Organizations can use a wide variety of strategies to prevent DoS attacks on a machine or network resources. The creation of an incident response plan is a vital step in this process. In the event that there is suspicion, it becomes necessary to confirm with the internet service provider (ISP) about the reasons for the slowdown.

The ISP can determine accurately whether a DoS is causing a degradation in performance. In addition, the service provider can help mitigate the effects of the denial-of-service attack by either throttling or rerouting malicious traffic. ISPs often employ load balancers to ameliorate the effects.

Firewalls, intrusion detection systems, DoS detection products, and intrusion prevention systems provide an effective way to defend against attacks. Additional strategies include using a cloud-based anti-DoS service and a backup internet service provider.

What is a Denial of Service Attack?

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