What DDoS attacks are and how a telecom operator can protect against them

January 15, 2024
What DDoS attacks are and how a telecom operator can protect against them
A Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack is a cyberattack that aims to render a resource, such as a website or network service, unavailable to its legitimate users. This is achieved by overwhelming the target system with an enormous number of requests that exceed its processing capabilities.

Protecting service providers

To defend against DDoS attacks, service providers need to implement comprehensive measures that encompass the following aspects:

Traffic Identification and Analysis: Identifying and analyzing traffic characteristics can help detect anomalies that may indicate a DDoS attack.

Distributed Architecture: Separating resources and processing across multiple data centers can distribute the load and reduce the impact of an attack on a particular resource.

Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS) and Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS): These systems can detect and prevent suspicious activities, which are key elements in combating DDoS.

Blacklisting and Whitelisting: Creating lists of trusted and untrusted traffic sources aids in filtering requests.

Cloud-Based Solutions for DDoS Defense: Cloud-based services can provide additional resources to absorb large volumes of traffic, particularly useful for large-scale attacks.

Regular Security Updates and Testing: Keeping security mechanisms up-to-date and conducting regular vulnerability testing helps maintain a high level of protection.

Collaboration and Information Sharing: Collaborating with other organizations and sharing information about new threats and protection methods strengthens overall security.

Defending against DDoS attacks requires a comprehensive approach and constant vigilance, as the nature and scope of attacks are constantly evolving. Appropriate security investments and staff training are key elements of a successful defence strategy for any service provider.

What is DDoS in simple words?

A DDoS attack occurs when many computers simultaneously send requests to a single site or service on the Internet to overwhelm it and make it inaccessible. Picture a massive crowd suddenly swarming a small shop. The shop is unable to serve everyone at once, and consequently, regular customers cannot enter and shop.

DDoS metaphor

You can liken a DDoS attack to a traffic jam on a motorway. If too many cars join the road simultaneously, traffic will slow down or come to a halt. The same principle applies to an online resource: if there are too many requests, it can no longer handle the load, slowing down or becoming entirely inaccessible.

How it works

Attackers employ botnets, which are networks of infected computers that send requests to the target site without the knowledge of their owners. This makes DDoS attacks particularly dangerous because the attack originates from a large number of sources, making it difficult to track and block.

Target of the Attack

The primary goal of a DDoS attack is to disrupt an online resource, driven by various motives, ranging from a simple desire to cause harm to an attempt to exert pressure on an organization or even ransomware. Thus, a DDoS attack stands as a powerful tool in the arsenal of cybercriminals.

It is important to understand that DDoS attacks do not lead to data theft or direct hacking of systems, but they can cause serious damage to an organisation’s reputation and financial standing, as well as a lot of inconvenience to end users.

How a DDoS attack works

DDoS attacks are carried out by coordinating a huge number of requests to a target resource, causing it to become overloaded and, as a result, inaccessible. These attacks are particularly dangerous because of their distributed nature, where requests are sent from many different devices, making it much more difficult to identify and block the sources of the attack.

Attack process

Attackers using botnets cause thousands of infected computers (or other devices) to simultaneously send requests to a specific server or network. Each of these requests may be harmless on its own, but when combined they create an overwhelming load that most servers cannot handle.

Stages of attack

Botnet build-up: Attackers create a network of infected devices (botnet) using viruses and Trojans.
Target selection: Identify the target of the attack, most commonly websites, online services, or network infrastructures.
Launching the attack: Activating the botnet to send an array of requests to the target.
Maintaining the attack: Maintaining a high level of requests to ensure a long and effective attack.
Terminating the attack: The attack is terminated either when the attacker’s objectives are achieved or when the attack is detected and terminated by defensive measures.

Defense challenges

Defending against DDoS attacks is complicated by the fact that they employ legitimate requests that are challenging to distinguish from normal traffic. Additionally, due to the distributed nature of the attacks, sources can be located anywhere in the world, making them difficult to track and block.

DDoS attacks pose a serious threat to organizations of all sizes, especially those that depend on online presence and network services. Understanding the mechanism of such attacks and developing effective defense strategies are key to ensuring reliability and security in today’s digital world.

What are the dangers of a DDoS attack?

DDoS attacks pose a serious threat not only to individual businesses but to the entire digital society. They can damage various aspects of an organization and even affect vital public services.

Economic losses

The most immediate and obvious consequence of a DDoS attack is economic loss. Companies lose revenue from sales and other operations during downtime and incur additional costs to restore systems and strengthen security measures. For smaller companies, such attacks can be devastating.

Reputational damage

In addition to direct financial losses, companies face reputational damage. Customers facing unavailability of services can lose trust in the company, which, in the long run, can lead to losses and a decline in the customer base.

Social and political impact

DDoS attacks can also have social and political impacts. Attacks on government websites or media outlets can be aimed at undermining trust in authorities or interfering with political processes. Such attacks can serve as a tool to achieve political goals by undermining the foundations of democracy and freedom of speech.

List of DDoS attack impacts

Business process interruption: Attacks can temporarily halt business-critical operations.

Infrastructure damage: In some cases, DDoS attacks can cause long-term damage to network infrastructure.

Disruption of critical services: Attacks on government websites, hospitals, and financial institutions can have serious consequences for society.

Threat to data security: While DDoS attacks do not steal data themselves, they can be used as a diversion to divert attention from other types of cyberattacks.

Increased vulnerability to subsequent attacks: After a DDoS attack, systems often become vulnerable to other types of cyber threats.

Who are DDoS attacks launched against and for what purpose?

DDoS attacks can target a wide variety of entities, ranging from individual websites to large corporations and government agencies. The motivations behind such attacks are diverse and may include financial gain, political reasons, personal grudges, or a desire to showcase technical abilities.

Commercial organizations

Businesses of all sizes are susceptible to DDoS attacks, especially those closely tied to the internet, such as online retailers, gaming platforms, and financial institutions. Even a brief period of downtime can result in significant financial losses and erode customer confidence.

Government and public institutions

Government websites and services are often targets of DDoS attacks carried out for political protest or destabilization purposes. These attacks can disrupt essential government services and undermine trust in the authorities.

Educational and scientific institutions

Universities and research institutes can also be targets of DDoS attacks. Motivations may range from protests against certain academic practices or policies to attempts by students to influence the educational process, such as advocating for the cancellation of exams.

Common targets of DDoS attacks

Gaming Industry: Online games and gaming platforms are frequent targets of attacks, affecting millions of users worldwide.

Media Organizations: Media outlets can be attacked for spreading certain views or news.

E-commerce: Online shops and e-commerce services are at risk, especially during periods of high demand, such as holiday sales.

Technology Companies: Companies involved in the development and provision of technology services may also be targeted due to competition or protests against their products or practices.

Activist and Charitable Organizations: Some attacks are motivated by a desire to undermine the work of community and human rights organizations.

Classification of DDoS attacks

DDoS attacks are classified according to various criteria, including attack method, target, and propagation mechanisms. Understanding these types helps in developing more effective defence strategies.

The main categories of attacks

Bulk attacks: These attacks aim to clog the target’s broadband connection using a huge volume of traffic. They are often implemented using botnets that send large amounts of data to the target’s address.

Protocol attacks: This type of attack focuses on exploiting weaknesses in the protocol that controls communication between networks. Protocol attacks can consume significant server or network hardware resources.

Application Layer Attacks: Target specific applications or servers and are usually more difficult to execute. These attacks can target HTTP, DNS and other services, and are often disguised as legitimate user requests.

Types of DDoS attacks

SYN Flood: Utilizes the principles of TCP’s three-step handshake, sending a large number of SYN requests without terminating the connection.
UDP Flood: Overloads the target resource with a large number of UDP packets, causing congestion.
Ping of Death: An attack that employs malformed or aggregated ICMP packets that can overflow buffers on the target system.
HTTP Flood: Simulates legitimate HTTP requests to overwhelm a web server or application.
DNS Amplification: Exploits vulnerabilities in DNS servers to amplify traffic and direct it to a target.

The variety of DDoS attack types requires a comprehensive approach to security. Understanding the specifics of each attack allows you to develop more accurate and effective protection methods, minimizing the risks and potential damage from such attacks.

Methods to prevent and defend against DDoS attacks

In a world where DDoS attacks are becoming increasingly sophisticated, effective defense requires a comprehensive approach that combines advanced technology and risk management strategies. The goal of protection is not only to prevent attacks but also to minimize their impact when they occur.

Detection and Response

Timely detection of DDoS attacks is crucial for minimizing their impact. Modern detection systems utilize various traffic analysis techniques, including machine learning and artificial intelligence, to identify unusual traffic patterns that may indicate an attack.

Mitigating Attacks

Once an attack has been detected, mitigation must begin immediately. This involves a series of technical solutions and procedures to reduce the impact of the attack on the infrastructure and keep services up and running.

Backup and Recovery

Maintaining up-to-date backups of systems and data ensures quick recovery from an attack. This is critical to minimizing downtime and maintaining data integrity.

Modern DDoS defense methods

Geographically Distributed Protection:Utilizing multiple data centers worldwide helps distribute the load and reduce risk.

Cloud-based Anti-DDoS Solutions: Cloud-based services offer the flexibility and scalability to handle large-scale attacks, providing access to advanced defense technologies.

Web Application Firewall (WAF) Enforcement: WAFs help screen out suspicious traffic and prevent application layer attacks.

IP Address Blacklists and Whitelists: Filtering traffic based on trusted (white) and untrusted (black) IP addresses aids in blocking malicious traffic.

Analyze and Adapt to New Threats: Continuous monitoring and adaptation to new types of attacks are integral parts of defense.

Examples of major DDoS attacks

The history of cybersecurity is littered with examples of large DDoS attacks that have had a significant impact on companies, governments, and even entire countries. Analyzing these examples helps to better understand the scope of the threat and the importance of effective defensive measures.

Landmark attacks

Dyn service attack (2016): One of the largest DDoS attacks in history, it disrupted many popular websites, including Twitter, Netflix, and Reddit. It utilized a network of millions of infected IoT devices, generating massive traffic.

Spamhaus Bank Attack (2013): This attack, targeting an anti-spam organization, peaked at 300 gigabits of data per second, making it one of the most powerful attacks at the time.

Attacks on Estonian government websites (2007): A series of DDoS attacks on Estonian government and news sites caused major disruptions to the country’s e-government.

GitHub attack (2018): Targeting the popular developer platform, this attack was one of the largest in terms of volume, reaching 1.35 Tbps.

Attack on PlayStation Network and Xbox Live (2014): PlayStation and Xbox game services were attacked during the Christmas holiday period, resulting in extended downtime.

Analyzing the implications

These attacks demonstrate the various methods and targets of DDoS attacks, ranging from politically motivated actions to simple hooliganism. They underscore the vulnerability of even the largest and most technologically advanced organizations. Furthermore, the consequences of these attacks extend beyond the immediate targets, affecting millions of users worldwide.

DDoS myths and facts

There are many misconceptions and myths associated with DDoS attacks that can lead to underestimating the threat or misunderstanding its nature. Examining the most common myths and facts can help you better understand this type of cyberattack and more effectively prepare to defend against it.

Common DDoS myths

Myth: DDoS is only a problem for large companies.
Fact: While large organizations are often the targets of large-scale DDoS attacks, small and medium-sized businesses are also vulnerable to this threat. Even small attacks can seriously impact businesses with limited resources.

Myth: DDoS attacks are always short-lived.
Fact: DDoS attacks vary in duration from a few minutes to days or even weeks. Some attacks are conducted in waves, repeating at intervals.

Myth: DDoS is only about increasing traffic.
Fact: While many DDoS attacks increase traffic, there are other types, such as application-level attacks, that may be less visible but no less disruptive.

Myth: Installing a firewall is enough to protect you.
Fact: Firewalls are important for network security, but they are not always effective against sophisticated DDoS attacks, especially at the application layer.

Myth: DDoS attacks don’t affect a company’s reputation.
Fact: In addition to direct financial losses and business disruption, DDoS attacks can damage a company’s reputation by undermining the trust of customers and partners.

Options of DDoS protection solutions

One of the promising trends in the field of protection against DoS and DDoS attacks is the use of Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) systems, such as Stingray Service Gateway. These systems provide a detailed analysis of network traffic in real time, enabling effective detection and prevention of DDoS attacks.

Advantages of Stingray Service Gateway

High Speed of Traffic Processing: Stingray Service Gateway can process a large amount of data without significant delays, which is critical to preventing DDoS attacks.

Flexible Configuration of Filtering Rules: The system allows you to configure detailed rules for filtering traffic, increasing the effectiveness of protection against various types of attacks.

Integration with Other Security Systems: Stingray Service Gateway can be integrated with other security systems to create a comprehensive protection solution.

Key features of Stingray Service Gateway

Deep network traffic analysis: Enables detection of sophisticated and masked attacks.
Scalable: Suitable for use in both small and large network infrastructures.
Adaptable to new threats: Can be updated to counter new types of attacks.


Defending against DDoS attacks remains one of the most pressing cybersecurity challenges. DDoS attacks are constantly evolving, becoming more sophisticated and difficult to detect and block.

DDoS defense requires the integration of various technologies and strategies, including deep packet analysis, cloud-based solutions, and ongoing security updates and testing. Successful DDoS defense requires continuous specialist training and adaptation to new threats. The use of AI and ML to better detect and neutralize DDoS attacks will become more prevalent, enabling real-time prediction and counter-attacks.

Defending against DDoS attacks demands constant attention, innovation, and a willingness to respond quickly to new threats. In a world where digital infrastructure is becoming increasingly important to everyday life and work, securing it is a key priority for governments, businesses, and society as a whole.

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