On October 21st, a major server-providing company was attacked with a widespread DDoS attack. Dyn, the company in question, provides servers for major companies like Twitter, Netflix, and LinkedIn. The attack brought down these sites and many more for end users on the east coast. The spokesperson for Dyn insists that they never experienced a complete outage and that the attack was handled in a matter of hours, but this event serves as a reminder that no one is truly safe. It also serves as a reminder that the internet is a highly complex organism with many moving parts. Let’s look at the parts that were in motion during this attack.
Understanding a DDoS attack begins with understanding DNS.
DNS stands for Doman Name Servers. Dyn is a DNS host, meaning that they provide server space and support to people who want to launch online presence. But what is a DNS? Basically, DNS is a collection of domain names that are then translated into IP addresses for your computer to communicate with. Without the domain names being translated into IP addresses, your web browser cannot find its way through the internet.
So, what is a DDoS attack?
A Distributed Denial of Service attack is basically a flood of fake IP addresses making requests of the DNS. These fake IP addresses clog up the works and cause the servers to get overloaded and even crash. The way that hackers launch attacks like these are by creating botnets. A botnet is a web of computers communicating through the internet that are infected with malicious software. In many cases, users are completely unaware that they are part of this situation and their computers, for this reason, are referred to as “zombies.”
How can you stop this?
One of the most important things that you can do to help mitigate these attacks is to ensure that you don’t become part of the problem. Make sure that your devices are password protected and that they are receiving important updates. The botnet used in the attack on the 21st was the Mirai Botnet which seeks out devices that are using their default usernames and passwords.
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