DDoS: 3 things to understand in 2024

by | May 16, 2024

Just last week, gamers around the world groaned in unison as Final Fantasy XIV, a fantasy series by gaming enterprise Square Enix, experienced difficulties. Users had trouble logging in, accessing servers, and engaging in gameplay. As it turns out, the disruption wasn’t just any old downtime: it was a DDoS attack. Those attacks still haven’t ceased– the game has been continually hit by bad actors, and continues to experience issues at the time of this article’s writing.

This recent news is just one of many DDoS attacks occurring in 2024. It joins the ranks of attacks carried out against the Pennsylvania court system, a series of Alabama government websites, and Switzerland, ahead of this year’s World Economic Forum. You may notice a theme: many DDoS attacks do tend to target government agencies. But financial institutions, healthcare organizations, technology companies, and even retailers are at risk– and it’s time for every security-conscious company to buckle down on DDoS.

Are you familiar yet? Let’s break down this type of attack and what it means for your organization.

What is a DDoS attack?

DDoS stands for “Distributed Denial of Service,” and is a type of attack that strategically blocks internet traffic to both internal and external parties trying to access your business’s network. Employees and customers alike are suddenly unable to access critical areas of your website, software, or applications, preventing their use and causing chaos that can serve as a distraction for bigger and “better” (so say the bad actors, anyway) attacks to take place.

A simple way to understand these attacks is to think of real-life traffic. You merge onto the highway to smooth sailing, only to find that, suddenly, you’re pulling up on bumper-to-bumper traffic. Cars in front of you aren’t moving, so you crane your neck to look for flashing lights or damage, but you can’t quite figure out what’s going on. By the time you check the rear-view again, more cars have lined up behind you. Now, no one can move, and it’s up to the administrator– the transit authorities– to find the source of the issue.

Now, imagine if you were stuck in that gridlock and someone went around popping open trunks and stealing valuables, escaping on foot. That’s the added value of a DDoS attack for bad actors: they can either be paid to restore the flow of traffic, take advantage of the distraction to go after bigger prizes, or both. And because DDoS attacks are often carried out using bots, they make fairly easy money with simple smoke screens for even the laziest of hackers.

As the threat of DDoS attacks looms larger, here are a few crucial things to understand so that you can protect your organization.

1. DDoS attacks are on the rise alongside other threats

Figures vary on the exact amount of DDoS attacks in Q1 of 2024, but all of the studies UPSTACK has combed for this piece agree: they are rapidly rising in frequency and intensity. Security Magazine reveals that DDoS attacks can reach critical levels in as little as 14 seconds, and CloudFlare reveals that they alone have already mitigated roughly 4.5 million DDoS attacks in the first quarter of the year.

Our own engineers agree– anecdotally, we have seen many DDoS attacks emerge in recent history, and we anticipate this to be a rising threat as widespread political unrest, the use of IoT devices, and the steady market share growth of ecommerce, among many other factors, multiply.

As we mentioned, DDoS attacks can serve as a distraction, allowing bad actors to initiate other, greater threats – theft of data, installation of malware, and gaining access to sensitive areas of your network, just to name a few. This means that the growing threat of a DDoS attack can empower an increase in other malicious actions – some so critical that they could cause severe financial and legal detriment.

2. They can happen to any organization

DDoS attacks are frequently associated with government organizations. There is certainly a correlation: governmental agencies are at risk even in mild political climates, but DDoS attacks tend to rise in frequency and severity in areas of global political conflict.

“The government sector holds extremely sensitive data, so you can understand why it is a prime target for cyberattacks,” said Sharada Achanta, Lumen VP of Product, Cybersecurity and AI, as quoted in SecurityInfoWatch. “Espionage, extortion, and disruptions are the reasons behind these attacks, and the attackers are not deterred by the increased security measures.”

However, enterprises can be attacked with just as much severity, particularly in time-sensitive instances that may be more likely to yield a ransom payout to restore services– notable events like holidays, large sporting events, and the likes.

Earlier, we mentioned the recent attack on the video game series Final Fantasy. Other private sector enterprises affected in the last year include ChatGPT, targeted in the midst of its rising popularity, various retailers and e-commerce platforms targeted before holiday rushes and amidst heightened usage during the pandemic, and many more.

But, don’t think you’re too small to be hit. Even SMBs can fall victim to DDoS attacks, and may find the effects even more devastating. Because small businesses don’t anticipate DDoS attacks, they may be underprepared for the rising risk, thus opening themselves up with security vulnerabilities and taking longer to remediate when attacks do occur. SMBs who believe they won’t become targets often underinvest in cybersecurity, which can leave vulnerabilities open that bad actors find attractive when choosing a victim. Overall, this may put SMBs at an even greater risk than their larger counterparts.

SMBs are unlikely to be able to afford a ransom to restore services, and may be unable to recoup the necessary spend to remediate the issue or implement new security measures after an attack.

The costs of DDoS accumulate quickly for businesses of all sizes and verticals, and can include paying a ransom, remediation service charges, legal liabilities, and increased insurance rates. And speaking of insurance…

3. DDoS can complicate cyber insurance

The uptick in DDoS attacks provides one more difficulty to complying with– and getting protected under– a cyber insurance plan.

We’ve seen difficulties with cyber insurance up close here at UPSTACK. A client of ours, a global food distributor, lacked a robust cyber security plan and became concerned about the enterprise security posture, as well as a denial of cybersecurity insurance coverage. Our team helped the distributor with planning, sourcing, and negotiating pricing with a preferred managed IT and security services provider. They were able to develop a comprehensive security roadmap to address these concerns.

In that particular instance, our client was aware of the risks and went up to bat to mitigate them, with help from the experts. But in the case of many other businesses, especially SMBs, a lack of understanding about rising threats like DDoS attacks leads to critical underpreparation. Insurance companies know this, and they’re changing the stakes.

It’s been a topic of conversation for years now, but the one piece of cybersecurity discourse every business should understand is this: insurance companies don’t want to pay out, and thus the strict requirements for coverage and the list of exclusions are growing alongside cyberthreats themselves.

DDoS threats are underestimated and perhaps underrepresented compared to terms we all know and understand, like ransomware and phishing. Companies may be unaware of how to protect themselves, and thus can miss or ignore crucial steps in compliance that may affect their payout.

We can also anticipate that insurance companies will meet this rising threat with resistance by narrowing the field of DDoS coverage and requiring more stringent eligibility measures. It will become even more crucial to invest in rigorous cybersecurity measures to be covered by insurance – which may be a good call anyway: the best way to mitigate the fallout of a DDoS attack is to prevent it from happening in the first place.

Mitigating risk from DDoS attacks

A DDoS attack can happen to anyone, anywhere, and anytime. Prevention, response, and remediation are pillars of a healthy defense, and can save your business from potentially catastrophic losses in the event that this increasingly common attack type happens to you.

Prevention and detection

The first thing you’ll want to do is enlist a high-quality monitoring and intrusion detection and prevention service (IDS/IPS), so that key players on your IT team can be alerted to an attack right away. Setting up monitoring parameters can help an organization recognize when an unexpected abundance of traffic is coming their way– the hallmark sign of an impending DDoS attack. IDS/IPS can detect and block known attack signatures in real-time, so that established bad actors can be thwarted before they make it any further in penetrating your network defenses.

As always, firewalls are a core feature for any security measure. Though they may not be a standalone solution, firewalls serve as the first line of defense. Having a next-generation firewall (NGFW) instead of a legacy stateful firewall is a crucial step in enhancing modern security capabilities.

Mitigation

In the event that you do experience an alert, you’ll find yourself relying on DDoS mitigation services, another essential investment in a robust cybersecurity plan. When an attack is suspected– either by your company, an MSP, or another supplier handling your IDS/IPS– the traffic is re-routed and “scrubbed”. In that process, malicious traffic is discarded and clean traffic is sent to the enterprise, mitigating the essence of the attack and restoring service while bouncing bad actors away.

EDR: An all-in-one aid

Some solutions like endpoint detection and response can help businesses to monitor endpoint devices and look for IOCs (Indicators of Compromise). EDR specifically possesses threat detection, threat hunting, and mitigation functionalities, which can serve as a robust addition to your other cybersecurity measures, and is especially helpful in DDoS instances. EDR can also leverage AI to analyze behavior and can uncover anomalous activity, which can indicate an attack or breach has taken place.

Get protected by the experts

There are plenty of options for preventing and mitigating DDoS attacks, and with such a wide landscape of suppliers and solutions, it can be difficult to choose– let alone to work multiple solutions into a comprehensive plan. But doing so is more crucial than ever as threats multiply.

UPSTACK remains at the forefront of the changing threat landscape, including DDoS and related attacks. Our team can help protect you, your organization, and your customers from these attacks and their devastating effects.

The UPSTACK team specializes in helping government agencies, private sector enterprises, and SMBs alike defend against mounting threats. Don’t go it alone– add UPSTACK to your defensive line today.

Get in touch with our experts here!

This article was written with help and information from UPSTACK engineers, Paul Vuoso, VP Solutions Engineering and Brandon Winston, Solutions Engineer. Our team is dedicated to providing the most current and pertinent information to customers, and their commitment to research, agility, and growth is an asset to UPSTACK. We thank Paul and Brandon for consulting on this piece. Learn more about our technology experts.