The Internet is a scary place and Friday morning proved that it is still very vulnerable to massive disruptions.
The disruptions have been caused by a large distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack targeting a large domain name system (DNS) service provider Dyn. Dyn DNS hosts some very large properties: Twitter, Reddit, PayPal, Shopify, Etsy, Airbnb, and Github to name a few, all of which have been reporting outages, downtime, and service interruptions.
So, you might be asking yourself: What is a DDoS attack and why can’t we stop it? Simply put, a denial of service attack is when one or more connected devices send more traffic to a victim than it can handle. This causes that machine to stop communicating normally. In a distributed denial of service attack, this is scaled up significantly with thousands of devices all over the world targeting a victim’s network. Just last week there was a reported attack on over 152,000 “smart devices” attacking a French hosting provider “OVH”.
How was someone able to organize that many devices to do this? A Botnet. Botnets are a network of systems that have been infected with a virus, but contrary to popular belief these infected computers typically don’t display any aberrant behavior. These infected systems run normally until the owner of the Botnet tells the network to do something, like crack this password or flood a service. All at once the infected network will execute the command. In the case of DDoS, attacks come stampeding in from all over the world causing network delays until the latency is so high that the service stops responding. You can think of it as an 8-lane freeway; it is designed to handle a certain number of cars. However, on a Canucks game night (for example) there is congestion, stalls, and accidents. Where can you go? Nowhere, not until the problem is dealt with and all the cars eventually funnel through. The same is sort of true for the Internet with one exception, you are probably completely unaware that you are part of the problem. Your computer/device will do this all in the background, you might notice your system slowing down, but systems are typically built to be pretty stealthy.
But, can’t we just block them?
Well, going back to my freeway analogy, how can you tell which car is heading to the game and which one is just going home for the night? You can’t, and there is the real challenge. You can build a responsible infrastructure but there will always be a finite limit to what it can handle.
Preventing Botnets from getting put together in the first place is our best defense and this falls to everyone. Whether you are computer savvy or not, there are some basic things you can do to help prevent these attacks. With our current technology. We will never be able to stop these systems from being created, but we can limit them and make it much more difficult for them to get going.
- Scan your computer for viruses.
- Make sure your virus scanner is updated with the latest updates.
- Ensure your software is updated.
- Apply all security patches to your handhelds.
- Make sure you have a firewall protecting your home.
- Use strong, unique passwords (Not exactly relevant here but it still needs to be said).
Please do your part and help us stop DDoS attacks in the future.