Nearly everyone who tried to access some of their favorite websites Friday morning were left wondering what was going on. Sites like Reddit, Spotify, and the New York Times were all inaccessible, which surprised many Internet users. Within a few hours, news came out of a massive DDoS attack which prevented these sites from being served to their audiences. But what exactly is a DDoS attack and what impact does it have?
DDoS stands for Distributed Denial of Service and Friday’s attack took down a large portion of the Internet for most users on the East Coast of the United States. The attack itself was aimed at Dyn, an Internet infrastructure company based out of New Hampshire. This type of attack is performed by overwhelming the servers with millions of malicious requests from multiple sources. Simply put, when a server has more requests than it can handle, it is nearly impossible to bring up the website you want.
Sadly enough, these types of attacks are very common, and very effective. According to research by Trend Micro, a week-long DDoS attack can be purchased on the black market for about $150. The attack on Dyn was so widely felt because it offers Domain Name System (DNS) services to many popular websites. This type of service is essentially an address book for the Internet, converting the URL entered into the correct string of numbers to bring up the right website. “DNS registrars typically provide authoritative DNS services for thousands or tens of thousands of domain names, and so if there is a service-impacting event the collateral damage footprint can be very large,” says Roland Dobbins, a principal engineer at Arbor Networks, a security firm that specializes in DDoS attacks.
Overall the effect of these types of attacks are monetary. Sites generating revenue from ads or content are unable to do so when their sites are inaccessible. To the user, it is a huge inconvenience although there is typically no actual harm to the device trying to access the website.