An increasing number of web hosting companies offer DDoS protection to protect dedicated servers from the growing threat of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. Having a better understanding of how DDoS attacks work and how DDoS protection plans operate on a technical level will help you make better decisions for your site’s security needs.
Explore this post to find out more about what DDoS attacks are and where they come from. Then, discover the three most common types of DDoS attacks as well as some “red flags” to watch out for that could indicate your site is under attack. Finally, learn how DDoS protection works to thwart these types of attacks and learn if your server has the right level of protection.
While there’s no way to 100% guarantee you won’t fall victim to a DDoS attack, having this knowledge and the right amount of DDoS protection can help protect your site, your server, and valuable/sensitive information.
You go out of your way to make sure that your WordPress site is as secure as possible. You check for security updates frequently, install patches as soon as they’re available, and back-up your data on a regular basis. Still, there may be security vulnerabilities putting your website data at risk.
One of the most common types of web attacks today is known as the DDoS attack; and unfortunately, DDoS attacks can target any site (regardless of size or scope) at any time. By understanding what DDoS attacks are and how DDoS protection works, you can make the right decisions to protect your site.
What Exactly is a DDoS Attack?
A DDoS attack refers to a distributed denial of service attack; these attacks work by “flooding” a site’s server with high amounts of bogus traffic. The unusual amounts of traffic can overwhelm a server and cause slow page load times, downtime, and other problems. A DDoS attack can happen at any time and can affect even the most “secure” of websites.
For example, in 2016, the United States Library of Congress servers were taken down by a huge DDoS attack that affected not just the LoC website but prevented LoC employees from being able to access their emails (because they all operated on the same server).
Where Do DDoS Attacks Come From?
Because the sources of DDoS attacks can be difficult to track, it’s not always possible to determine where any given attack is coming from. However, research has shown that China is currently the single largest source of DDoS attacks in the world.
Regardless of the specific area of the globe from which these attacks originate, they are carried out by hackers who want nothing more than to exploit a website’s security vulnerabilities and cause headaches for website administrators, site visitors, and even hosting companies.
What Are the Different Types of DDoS Attacks?
There are several different types of DDoS attacks, but a few of the most commonly used today are as follows:
- Volumetric attacks – The most common, these attacks focus on flooding a site with “fake” traffic to the point of causing the servers to shut down entirely for hours or even days at a time, depending on the response from the hosting company managing the server.
- Resource depletion attacks – These attacks focus on overwhelming a server not just to the point of shutting a site down, but affecting server speeds even after the site is re-launched. This can create ongoing headaches beyond what a “typical” volumetric attack would cause.
- Zero-Day attacks – These attacks are the least common, but involve researching and targeting specific vulnerabilities on a site’s server. While it is less likely that your site will be the victim of a zero-day attack than a volumetric or resource depletion attack, the results can be catastrophic for your site if you do fall victim.
This is not an exhaustive list of the various types of DDoS attacks out there, but it is a pretty comprehensive summary of the few types of attacks that are seen most often in today’s web environment.
Signs That Your WordPress Site Is Under Attack
Being aware of some of the common signs of a DDoS attack is important for any website owner. After all, the earlier you’re able to detect an attack and report it to your server, the better the chances that you’ll be able to stop it in its tracks or, at the very least, minimize damage as much as possible.
On a WordPress site specifically, be on the lookout for user complaints about slow page loading times or inability to access your site. Of course, having an outlet for users to submit reports of problems outside of your website can be useful here.
For example, having a social media page (such as a Twitter or Facebook page) is a great way to accept feedback from users even when your server may already be down. And while slow page load times or difficulty getting a site to load could be a non-malicious server issue, there is also a chance that your site is under attack when these types of problems are being reported. This is especially true if the same types of error reports are coming in from numerous users at once.
If your site is showing any signs of being under a DDoS attack, what should you do? It’s best to let your WordPress server host know about the issue so it can be investigated as soon as possible. A reputable hosting company will have a specific protocol in place for handling a suspected DDoS attack, so this is another reason taking the time to shop around for and choose your dedicated server company wisely can make all the difference.
How DDoS Protection Ultimately Works
Fortunately, you can stop many DDoS in their tracks by having DDoS protection built into your WordPress server. This type of protection works by essentially creating a “filter” that guards entry to your site and sifts through requests to access your website effectively and efficiently. This allows illegitimate traffic to be kept out, while legitimate users are still able to reach your site without any delay or access issues.
Specifically, there are two routes that a server with DDoS protection may take, depending on your settings and preferences. No matter which course of action taken when a DDoS attack attempt floods your site, the purpose and general function of DDoS protection remains more-or-less the same.
One option is to have your server simply ignore traffic that it believes it be illegitimate. Another option is to have the “bad” traffic re-routed to a “decoy” website while allowing legitimate traffic. This allows the server to keep running as it is designed to and for resources to be allocated or redistributed as needed.
Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do to stop or prevent DDoS attack attempts on your site, but by handling them correctly and having the right level of DDoS protection in place, you can protect your site from server downtime and other issues.
How Much DDOS Protection Do I Need?
There are many different tiers of DDoS protection available from most hosting companies. Most are tiered based on the size of the attack the DDoS protection package is able to guard against. To give you some context, a smaller attack is generally considered to be anything from one to 10 gigabytes per second in size.
Larger attacks can be 100 gigabytes per second or larger. For example, the attack that took down the United States Library of Congress servers back in 2016 was several hundred gigabytes per second in size.
A small site that doesn’t have a large following and doesn’t typically receive a huge influx of traffic each month isn’t likely to be hit by anything larger than one to 10 gigabytes per second in size, but for added peace of mind, it may still make sense to purchase the next-higher tier of protection.
On the other hand, a very popular site that is well known and sees large amounts of monthly traffic may be a bigger target for larger and more complex attacks. As a result, it may make sense for these types of sites (or sites that rely on uptime for a large number of their profits) would be well served in purchasing the largest level of protection possible. After all, you can’t really put a price on that peace of mind when there is so much at stake.
Benefits of Having DDoS Protection on Your WordPress Site
If you don’t already have DDoS protection built into your WordPress server, now is the time to get it. DDoS protection might not cost much extra per month, and you can decide on the size of attack you want to protect against based on your site’s typical traffic and unique needs. With most hosting companies, once you purchase it, the protection is automatically implemented (or starting at the beginning of your next billing period, depending on your hosting company).
With DDoS protection in place, you reduce your chances of falling victim to one of the most common types of attacks on the web today. In this sense, ordering DDoS protection is one of the easiest steps you can take to keep your site from falling victim to unplanned downtime and other security issues.
Do I Have DDoS Protection?
Many hosting companies these days have even begun to include a basic level of DDoS protection at no added cost to dedicated server customers. Typically, this standard level of coverage will include protection for attacks of up to around 10 gigabytes per second.
Of course, this may not be enough to protect larger sites from the prospect of much beefier attacks, but for smaller sites, this level of protection may fit the bill just fine and can save website administrators money in the process.
Learning From an Attack
In the event that a DDoS attack is attempted on your server, having DDoS protection will not only protect your site from being impacted by the attack, but it will also allow you to obtain valuable reporting and data on the attempted attack.
For example, you’ll be able to find out how large the attack was and possibly even where the source came from as well as which vulnerabilities in your server’s security were used to carry it out. This information can be extremely valuable not just to you as a website administrator, but to your hosting company for preventing future attacks and addressing any remaining vulnerabilities within your server or website in the process.
Overall, DDoS attacks are something that all website administrators need to be aware of and taking measures to protect against.
The good news is that aside from purchasing DDoS protection and adding to your existing WordPress hosting, there isn’t much else you need to do aside from being on the lookout for some of those “telltale” signs of an attempted attack. From there, you can keep your website server in good standing, avoid unnecessary (and costly) downtime, and protect your reputation with your site visitors.
Yevgeniya is the Marketing Director at ReliableSite, which provides enterprise-grade dedicated servers and exceptional service that includes free DDoS protection.
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