Distributed denial of service, or DDoS, attacks can be hugely damaging to businesses that rely on their online presence for sales and new business – and DDoS attacks are undoubtedly on the rise.
According to DDoS mitigation provider, Prolexic, the second quarter of this year saw a 20% increase in these attacks, which are also increasing in both strength and longevity.

According to Prolexic, this is due to the increasing sophistication and proliferation of botnets, which are springing up as fast as they are being torn down. Botnet controllers are renting out their services, to anyone with the cash and the desire to cause disruption to business.

Jayson O’Reilly, director of Sales & Innovation at DRS, says now is the time for companies to carefully consider the potential impact a DDoS attack could have on the business. He says the first thing that businesses can do to protect themselves is to be aware that the threat exists, and that they could be the next target.

“All businesses are potentially vulnerable. There are no advance warnings of DDoS attacks, and no way to know if and when your business could be targeted. However, if your business is dependent on its Web site to service customers, you should have protocols in place to defend against an attack, should it happen.”

O’Reilly says some businesses are more vulnerable, or more likely to be a target than others, which is largely industry dependent. Retail, financial services and gaming sites are popular targets.

“Businesses should establish the likelihood of attack, or if they have already been a target, what sort of volume of attacks they have experienced. If they have experienced attacks, were these prolonged, or particularly strong? These questions can help a business select a suitable level of DDoS protection.”

Businesses that find themselves regular targets, and which have a high dependency on their Web sites for business should consider a level of protection that comes with high service level agreements, he adds.

“They should select a DDoS mitigation provider that can have a site back up almost instantaneously and guarantee uptime. However, this is not a cheap exercise.”

There are other, less expensive options too, that come with a choice of protection levels, guaranteeing protection up to a certain level.

“This sort of protection is suitable for businesses that experience low level, less lengthy attacks. However, should an attack happen that is above the protection level the company has paid for, they would be on their own,” O’Reilly says.

Smaller businesses, who haven’t yet been hit by a DDoS attack, can also follow several steps to better prepare themselves in the event of an attack, he says. Businesses which use dedicated servers have the option of setting up a backup connection called an out-of-band (OOB) connection, which is essentially a backup path in case of network communication failure.

“In the event of the usual network becoming inaccessible, the businesses can use the OOB connection to access the server instead. A hosting provider can add an OOB connection, and at a price that won’t break the bank.”

O’Reilly says network monitoring can also be a big help here. “A network monitoring system that can pick up anomalous behaviour such as sudden spikes, can act as an early warning system for a DDoS attack.”

In addition, he advises businesses to be aware of where they are most vulnerable, in order to keep an eye on those points, and strengthen them wherever possible. “Add alerts for your weak points, and put plans in place to upgrade the security on these points over time.”

Lastly, O’Reilly says to always view a DDoS attack with suspicion. “Sometimes DDoS attacks are not what they seem, and are instead used as a smoke screen, disguising more sinister threats.”

He cites a number of DDoS attacks that targeted the banking industry over the past twelve months that were used to disguise fraud.

“While the banks’ security staff were fighting, and attempting to mitigate the DDoS attacks, the cyber crooks were taking over accounts and stealing money. Be vigilant. DDoS can be nothing more than a distraction, so should your business suffer an attack, don’t keep all eyes on the attack, leaving other parts of your system vulnerable.”