Understanding Today’s DDoS Attacks

October 21, 2016

By now, you’ve probably heard of the major server attacks that left large websites inaccessible in many parts of the nation today. Like most people, you probably have questions. The Brandography development team is here to shed some light on what’s happening.

Imagine you’re a receptionist at a large company. You can easily handle several calls at once, expertly juggling transfers and balancing incoming requests. But if 100 calls come in simultaneously? Something’s bound to break.

That’s what happened earlier today in what’s known as a Distributed Denial of Service, or DDoS, attack.

One of the critical systems that the Internet runs on is called the DNS service. The DNS (domain name service) acts like a giant phone book for the Internet. Its purpose is to associates names with addresses. When you grab an Uber and tell your driver you want to go to a local hotel, the driver puts the address in his GPS and gets directions to the hotel. The DNS system performs a very similar function. You tell it where you want to go, and it finds the address so it can show you the webpage.

When someone performs a DDoS attack on a DNS server, that server gets bogged down with work and no longer has the time to tell real users where they can find sites (like you as an overwhelmed receptionist, or an Uber driver with too many people in the car all asking for different locations – no one gets where they need to go).

This is what happened to a major DNS server company, Dyn, earlier today. Companies that use Dyn include Twitter, Netflix, Spotify, Etsy, GitHub, and several other major brands.

Map from DownDetector.com and Level3 Communications
Map from DownDetector.com and Level3 Communications

While DDOS attacks are relatively common, this latest attack could be continuing a trend of something more worrying. Over the last several years, someone has been probing and attacking the critical underlying infrastructure of the Internet.

DDOS attacks will commonly target specific sites or businesses in order to extort money. In this case, we’re starting to see more broad based attacks that aren’t necessarily targeted at an individual entity, but rather, the Internet itself in a larger sense.

Today’s attacks could just be the beginning. The attacks have become more sophisticated over time, but our own infrastructure hasn’t kept up pace. While Dyn works to recover, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security continue to investigate.

Questions? For more information about DDoS attacks and general cyber security, give us a call at 612.460.0016 or send us an email at info@brandography.com. We’ll point you to the latest information and discuss ways to make your site safer.

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