It’s easy to become overwhelmed when learning about hackers, malware and all the threats that await your business in the online world. We’d like to tell you not to be overwhelmed, but there is a lot to know when it comes to cyber attacks, and the specific scams that hackers use are evolving every day, so be overwhelmed if you must.
Speaking of being overwhelmed, that’s exactly what a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack does to your business systems. You may have heard about DDoS or simply “denial of service” attacks, but how do they work, and what can you do to protect yourself?
Amassing a Bot Army
The idea behind a DDoS attack is that hackers threaten to overwhelm your website or other systems with fake traffic, to the point that the system crashes, or at least so that your legitimate users can’t get through. They ask for a ransom, and presumably if you pay it, they call off the attack. Sounds simple enough.
But generating all that traffic requires a lot of computers, and it would be very expensive for hackers to buy and operate this many machines themselves. That’s where bots come in.
You’ve probably heard of bots and you can be forgiven for imagining an army of mechanical soldiers with photon blasters. That’s not exactly it. In fact, a bot is just a computer that’s been infected by malware that puts it under the control of a hacker. Millions of personal and business devices are bots right now, and their owners may not know it. Your desktop, laptop or phone may be one.
A hacker who wants to carry out a DDoS attack will use phishing scams and other nefarious methods to amass a large group of bots for this purpose (usually hundreds of thousands of machines). This is called a bot network or botnet. If someone wants to attack your network and doesn’t have their own botnet, they can actually rent one on the dark web for $10/hr.
So with a botnet at the ready and a target (your business) picked out, the hackers contact you and let you know that if you don’t pay $5,000 (or $50,000) in bitcoin by a certain date and time, the attack will begin, your systems will grind to a halt and won’t come back online until you pay up.
Thankfully, if you have cyber insurance that includes access to an elite cyber-response team (like that sold by Mitchell & Whale), you have the top cyber security experts in your corner, and they eat DDoS attacks for breakfast. If you identify the problem quickly and notify the cyber response team, you may get away with very little system down time.
If you don’t have cyber insurance, there are a number of methods you can use to try to overcome a DDoS attack, like temporarily changing the IP address of your website, but if the hackers are determined, this is only a temporary solution. If you don’t have in-house cyber security, you’ll have to call in an external firm to make it stop. By the time you get it all sorted out, your website or other systems could be down for days. Can your business survive that?