Businesses from all industries have been transitioning online in some form in the last couple of decades. The rising popularity of the Internet caused a shift in consumer behavior and a steadily increasing demand for digital services. The 2020 coronavirus pandemic sped up the process significantly, and nowadays almost all companies have an online component. Those can include company websites, online shops, or internal operations systems.
While digitization opened brands to new markets and possibilities, it also exposed them to one of the major cyber threats to emerge in recent years — DDoS attacks. What started as small-scale attacks and prank activity is now a threat to businesses of all sizes. Many companies underestimate the dangers of DDoS attacks and the harm they can do to their brand reputation and profits.
In this article, we will explore what DDoS attacks are, how they work, and how they can harm your business despite its size and scope. We will take a brief look at the past and future of DDoS activity and explain why it is not a threat to be taken lightly.
What Is a DDoS Attack?
A Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attack involves a hacker targeting a server or a website with an overwhelming amount of traffic. Hackers use large networks of hijacked devices (also known as botnets) in order to suddenly flood the target with requests. This fake traffic is usually indistinguishable from real users trying to access the server. The machine attempts to process all requests, as it is programmed to do. However, the number of requests is too much to handle, and as a result, actual users cannot access the server. In the end, the server is rendered useless and effectively shuts down.
DDoS attacks are a favored weapon of hackers worldwide because they are relatively easy to execute and exceptionally effective at taking down websites. Modern DDoS attacks have the capability to inflict major damage even to giants like Amazon or Google. While there are some ways to detect, prevent, and mitigate DDoS attacks, the security industry is struggling to keep up with the hackers’ evolving methods.
The Rise of DDoS Attacks
DDoS attacks first emerged in the early 90s’ as a student successfully shut down his university network with a flood of fake traffic. The method became popular in the 2000s, when the hacker Mafiaboy used DDoS to take down a number of high-profile websites, including eBay. As the world became more and more interconnected and new technologies were developed, hackers found new and better ways to execute DDoS and successfully target all manner of businesses and organizations.
In 2020, approximately 10 million DDoS attacks occurred — a substantial increase over the already worrying 2019 numbers. In May 2020 alone, there were close to a million detected DDoS attacks. Unfortunately, projections for 2021 are even worse, as technologies like IoT (Internet of Things) and 5G become more widespread.
What Are the Most Frequent Targets of DDoS Activity?
Of course, the most heavily publicized DDoS attacks target large multinational companies. This might lead small business owners to a false sense of security — after all, why would a hacker go for a small target? However, the fact is that hackers often target precisely those small or medium-sized companies because they are the most vulnerable. Such businesses would often have less secure servers, making them the ideal targets for a DDoS attack.
Additionally, this false sense of security makes business owners neglect the threat of DDoS and fail to invest in adequate security solutions. So, while large websites and companies are more lucrative targets for DDoS, smaller operations are an easier target. In many cases, the attack goes unnoticed until the damage has already been done. DDoS attacks are often used as tools for blackmailing business owners or as a weapon against a competitor.
How DDoS Attacks Can Hurt Your Business
No matter the size and scope of your business, even a simple DDoS attack can have serious consequences. A hacker targeting your website, for example, can lead to a variety of issues that can really hurt your business. Given the fact that the majority of business owners do not have adequate security measures, a DDoS attack can occur without you even knowing.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the ways in which a DDoS attack can harm your company and your bottom line.
1. Loss of Business
If your company website is not working, you can lose both new and returning customers. This goes double for online shops, which rely on their website for making sales. A DDoS attack aims to shut down your website and make it inaccessible to real users and customers. Just imagine an eCommerce website going offline on a date when lots of sales are expected — like on Black Friday, for example.
Even a few hours of website downtime can have serious consequences for your business. This is exactly why hackers often use DDoS as a means of extortion. If you fail to pay them, they will attack and take down your website.
2. Reputation Damage
An inactive website or operational issues due to a DDoS attack can severely hurt the reputation of your company. If you operate a subscription-based business that goes offline, your customers will not be able to access what they are paying for. In such a situation, you need to prepare for lots of negative online reviews and comments. A bad PR storm can be deadly for an up-and-coming business.
A DDoS attack will make your company look less reliable in the eyes of your current and potential customers. You cannot expect people to give you their money or personal information when you appear to be lacking when it comes to security measures.
3. Loss of Productivity, Time, and Resources
Most companies today rely on online platforms to undertake their day-to-day tasks. If you use proprietary software that gets shut down by DDoS, your entire operations might be crippled. Sure, your website might still be up — however, you and your team will not be able to do your jobs properly. DDoS attacks can be used to suddenly shut down your company operations, which can lead to decreased productivity, financial losses, and even loss of customers.
4. Data Theft
While DDoS attacks are especially effective for taking down websites, they are also quite handy as a distraction. Many hackers utilize DDoS in order to divert your attention while performing another cyber attack that goes completely unnoticed. While you and your team are busy dealing with the consequences of the DDoS attack, the hacker can slip past your firewall and attempt to steal confidential data or personal information.
DDoS attacks are often used as covers for massive data theft operations. Losing confidential information can be extremely harmful to your company and can even get you in trouble with the law.
5. Damage to SEO
Search engine optimization (SEO) helps websites appear higher on search engine result pages for specific keywords. As you can imagine, this is especially useful for small and medium companies that are trying to acquire as many customers as possible. While there are many factors that contribute to the SEO rank of your website, one of the most important ones is website speed — how long your site takes to load.
A DDoS attack will make your website unresponsive, which means that your website speed will be practically non-existent. If you do not mitigate this quickly, search engines might decide that your website is slow due to poor SEO. If your website gets penalized by search engines, getting back to the top spots in result pages is quite a hard endeavor.
The Future of DDoS Attacks
As we already mentioned, DDoS attacks in 2021 and beyond are expected to be much more frequent and more devastating. IoT devices play a huge role in this, as they are the main things hackers use to create botnets with which to execute DDoS activity. As of today, IoT devices generally have poor security, making them extremely easy to hack. Since they are becoming more widespread, we can expect massive botnets to be a significant threat quite soon.
On top of that, the introduction of 5G networks also poses a threat. The increased bandwidth and connection speed of 5G will allow hackers to launch DDoS attacks of unprecedented scale and efficiency. With the help of 5G, hackers can create botnets of thousands of devices hooked to global networks and use them to generate terabytes of fake traffic. What is even worse, the low latency of 5G will make the attacks occur in mere seconds.
As you can see, DDoS attacks pose a significant threat to businesses and organizations from all walks of life. The dangers of DDoS are not to be taken lightly, no matter the size of your business. Failure to take the needed measures to detect such activity can result in damages to your brand reputation and profits. We recommend you come up with a DDoS response plan and appoint a team to be in charge of executing it should the need arise.