DoS vs DDoS: 4 Differences and How To Prevent the Attacks
Do you know the difference between DoS vs DDoS? If the answer is no, then you are probably not protected from these cyber attacks. If the answer is yes, you may still not be protected (and you need to be protected).
As a WordPress administrator, both Denial of Service (DoS) attacks and Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks shouldn’t be taken lightly. Though different in nature, both types of attacks have the ability to completely or partially cripple the public’s access to your site. In turn, your livelihood can be temporarily or permanently ruined by these attacks.
First, we’ll take a look at how DoS attacks differ from DDoS attacks. Knowing how to distinguish DoS vs. DDoS attacks is very important, even if you’re not a security specialist. Next, we’ll look at WordPress DDoS prevention tactics and tools. We’ll also take a look at some examples of DoS vs. DDoS attacks. You’ll go from zero (or higher, depending on your cybersecurity knowledge) to pro in no time!
What is a DoS?
A Denial of Service (DoS) attack is what it sounds like: an action by an attacker that limits or eliminates legitimate visitors’ access to your site or your services – in other words, it denies your services to visitors. Any quality WordPress security plugin will address DoS attack attempts.
A DoS attack has to have what’s called an “attack vector,” and your server must have what’s called an “attack surface” for the attack to take place. The attacker must know of a “vulnerability” and have a way to “exploit” it. While a “vulnerability” is simply a weakness in system architecture, an “exploit” is a script or program that takes advantage of that exploit to perform malicious actions it allows. “Attack surface” is any openness the server has for being attacked; unfortunately, any public server will have a fairly wide attack surface. This is inherent in its public nature. The “attack vector” is the way in for the attacker and will vary by vulnerability. The attack vector is the way in for the attacker. Are you vulnerable?
You’ll see many WordPress DDoS prevention plugins, but not many WordPress DoS prevention plugins. This is because, in general, WordPress simply puts out a free update when a DoS vulnerability comes out. The first ‘D’ in ‘DDoS’ stands for “distributed,” which makes this attack a bit harder to defend.
In short, a denial of service (DoS) is simply the removal of the availability of your website or services for legitimate visitors due to the actions of an attacker. A DoS is typically performed through a pre-made exploit. The WordPress team releases updates usually within hours of the initial “in the wild” release of a DoS attack. However, certain forums dedicated to “black hat” or malicious hacking typically sell access to non-public DoS exploits that may be more difficult to defend against until a user makes the attack’s mechanism public.
What Is a DDoS?
A DDoS, like a DoS, denies access to your servers and services. However, unlike a DoS attack, a DDoS is “distributed” in nature. A DoS attack typically exploits vulnerable components using a single machine to bring down your servers. On the other hand, a DDoS uses multiple machines to help bring down the machine running your WordPress servers.
The most common form of attack a WordPress DDoS protection plugin helps to block is network-based. This means that a group of infected machines, also called “zombies,” all pool their Internet connections together. Typically, the people who own these machines have no idea that their computers and network connections are being used in large attacks of this nature. Simply blocking the IP addresses of machines you see in conjunction with these attacks is often not effective; you’ll just end up blocking access of what are likely usually legitimate users. Even worse, you’ll be blocking people who have no idea that they’re involved in an attack against you from ever accessing your site. You could be playing right into the attacker’s hands by doing this.
Of course, there are other types of DDoS attacks. Almost always, these attacks are more effective than simpler DoS attacks. Of course, one of the key elements of any attack is persistence. Hackers simply keep the attack going no matter what. In some cases, attackers will align infected machines to perform individual DoS attacks on your server over and over again. This can be particularly annoying and difficult to defend against without a WordPress DDoS protection plugin because of the repetitive nature of the attacks.
A DDoS is essentially just like a regular DoS attack, but the methodology behind the attack utilizes multiple machines and network connections to perform the attack. This can be to amplify the power of the attack against your WordPress site; it could also be to take advantage of data center-level bandwidth by combining the bandwidth of thousands or millions of users’ Internet connections.
Of course, the exact nature of DDoS attacks will vary by the type of site you’re hosting, who the attacker is, what the motive is, and how determined the attacker is, along with the level of resources to which the attack has access.
DoS vs DDoS: 4 Differences to Know
There are several key differences to know when we’re examining DoS vs DDoS attacks. We’ll take a look at each one briefly and discuss these in more detail below.
- A DoS attack only requires one machine to be successful. By its nature, a DDoS attack requires multiple machines for the potential to be successful. However, multiple machines performing simple DoS attacks may be combined to form a DDoS attack.
- There are two major types of DDoS attacks: network-based and programmatic attacks. On the other hand, a simple DoS attack is almost always programmatic. This means that it usually exploits a software or hardware-specific flaw to deny service to visitors. DDoS attacks may do this, but they don’t necessarily need to.
- A DoS attack requires someone to have specialized knowledge and hacking experience; keep in mind that this isn’t necessarily the person or entity attacking your WordPress servers. On the other hand, if the attack is network-based, a DDoS attack won’t require specialized knowledge (or at least not very much). There are affordable, consumer-level tools that commit these attacks on unsuspecting individuals and servers.
- A DoS attack may just be a portion of a larger-scale attack on your server. A DDoS attack is typically not used in conjunction with other servers. Either way, having a WordPress backup plugin would serve you well. If you run a site that’s even somewhat popular, chances are that you’ll experience both forms of this attack at least once.
Now that we’ve examined some of the differences between DoS vs DDoS attacks on your WordPress site let’s dive into looking at some of the various types of attacks you may witness taking place on your site. Then, we’ll jump into what measures you can take to control such attacks and mitigate possible damage caused by these attacks.
What are the types of DoS and DDoS attacks?
A denial-of-service (DoS) attack is almost always programmatic in nature, meaning someone typically publishes an exploit on a forum, someone takes that exploit and runs it. First, the attacker will check the version of WordPress you’re using to determine if that exploit is compatible. Keeping your WordPress up to date, like most computer-related matters, is just as critical as other WordPress DDoS protection mechanisms.
Network-based attacks are more common to see during a DDoS attack. Because chances are your server is part of a larger data center. Usually, servers have high-tier network connections that are far more powerful than the average home Internet connection. DDoS attacks rely on having higher numbers of machines and more combined bandwidth. Using brute force, this network power can leave your servers temporarily offline.
Why would someone execute a DoS attack?
There are almost infinite reasons that someone would launch a DoS attack against your website. Unfortunately, the most common reason behind these attacks is simply that someone wants the thrill of getting away with doing something that’s illegal and harmful to another person. Another common motive is that an inexperienced hacker wants to earn digital “brownie points” with other hackers. Hackers don’t need a reason to attack you. The thrill of the hack and the points for getting through is reason enough.
More experienced hackers may perform this attack against your server in order to see how vulnerable your server is; this is formally known as “reconnaissance” on your server. This is far more dangerous than an inexperienced user testing the waters and should be treated as such.
It also may be that you’ve ousted a competitor from the market who wants to have the last word before leaving the market. If your WordPress site operates in a “questionable” domain, this is even more likely. For example, sites in the security sector get attacked far more often than sites that are not.
If someone has a personal vendetta against you for any reason, your digital assets are usually the easiest to attack; it’s also far less likely for the attacker to face the same consequences they’d face if they attacked you in person. This is always something to consider if you find yourself becoming the victim of a DDoS attack.
Though it may be tempting, if you know who the culprit is behind a DDoS attack, never “get them back” by attacking their site! As attractive as it feels in the moment, it’s never worth it. It’s far better to document the attack the best you can and report it to law enforcement agencies. In the United States, all 50 states have laws prohibiting DoS and DDoS attacks; it’s also against federal law to commit these. However, they rarely are reported to authorities, so you rarely hear about these cases in the news unless it’s against a large corporation with the resources to figure out who’s behind it.
What is a WordPress DDoS Attack?
A WordPress DDoS attack requires WordPress DDoS prevention tools and knowledge to thwart. These attacks occur when someone takes advantage of a DoS vulnerability inherent to WordPress or uses more traditional network-based DDoS attack mechanisms to knock your servers offline.
There are a variety of ways that these can be prevented or mitigated, depending on the severity of the attack and a few other key factors.
WordPress DDoS Prevention
WordPress DDoS prevention typically involves utilizing specialized tools and WordPress plugins to help with WordPress DDoS protection. Unfortunately, simply setting security rules within WordPress often won’t cut it. While it may not be necessary to go all out and hire a security specialist to manage your servers, you certainly shouldn’t just leave your resources out there, waiting to be attacked.
Fortunately, there are “measures in the middle” you can take as a WordPress site administrator. As the admin, you can take certain actions, like blocking IPs on the WordPress end. You can also periodically examine security logs to see if there was an attempted attack was stopped recently. Some WordPress DDoS protection plugins will also log IPs that are suspected of attempting attacks with known signatures on your site. There are always various methods you can use to expose the likely identity of an attacker.
By far, the simplest method for the average blog or site owner to use are effective WordPress DDoS protection plugins.
WordPress DDoS Protection Plugins
The iThemes Security Pro plugin is designed specifically to assist with WordPress DDoS prevention measures. For example, the tool makes it simple to ban IP addresses that are associated with attacks or attempted attacks, lessening the load on-site admins. It also makes it a simple task to require what’s known as a “captcha” or “recaptcha” for site visitors.
This means that if there’s an attempted attack going on, your site can stay online. In the meantime, a third-party service demands that site visitors fill out a verification form that they are indeed legitimate visitors and not malicious “bots” designed to spam your WordPress site with traffic until it crashes. These forms often have simple questions that a human would answer with ease, but a non-human might struggle to answer.
A common example is a math problem, like “What is 3 + 1?” being displayed. However, the characters are contained within an image and slightly distorted. This will thwart bots trying to utilize your site’s resources illicitly. At the same time, humans who are legitimately interested in visiting your site may be mildly annoyed, but they should be able to easily bypass the captcha. Most captcha technology in current times is compliant with federal regulations that demand your site be accessible to people with disabilities, such as blindness. To remain compliant, most captcha technology will have an audio option to allow blind users to hear the question or characters they need to type in rather than attempt to read them when doing so isn’t possible.
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