Cybersecurity experts have revealed that Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks have been at their most prevalent in 2020, and more potent and disruptive than ever before.

DDoS assaults are typically aimed at web services and websites with the ambition of causing such disruption that operations must be shut down and taken offline. In a DDoS attack, malicious operators unleash intense traffic from an army of botnets containing hundreds of servers, PCs, and other assorted interconnected personal devices under their control on their intended target in an attempt to completely overwhelm it.

These targeted attacks can last anywhere from mere seconds to days, blocking real users from being able to access an online service for the entirety of the pounding assault’s duration.

DDoS attacks in a climate of crisis

Although recorded DDoS attacks have long been an annoyance, the potential chaos caused by e-commerce, educational, corporate, and especially healthcare services being interrupted during the continuing coronavirus outbreak, is far greater than ever, with so many people in need depending on the vital lifeline of online services.

According to a recent threat analysis report presented by cybersecurity experts at Netscout, this scenario is precisely what is playing out this year, with the number DDoS attacks launched showing a clear increase. The cybersecurity firm stated it had identified a total of 4.83 million such attacks between January and June 2020, showing a rise of 15% on statistics recorded in 2019.

Threat intelligence lead for Netscout, Richard Hummel, commented:

“When looking at cyber threats historically, as the footprint of available attack surface increases, so do attacks against them. This is also true in the DDoS world.”

Although some DDoS attacks have financial or political motivations at their source others are carried out by hackers simply to show off or cause havoc just because they are able to. This does not make these mass attacks any less disruptive; in fact data uncovered by the threat intelligence team at Netscout noted that in 2020, attacks have become more powerful in scale. The largest-scale assaults were 2,851% more potent than those thrown at online service providers in 2017, giving threat operators the capability of ripping down networks far faster than previously seen.

Greater complexity for increased impact

To understand why DDoS attacks are now becoming more powerful, we must look at how they are being constructed and deployed. Attacks launched in 2020 are far more complex than their predecessors, not only comprising a whole host of assorted devices, but targeting a wider range of breach points on a provider’s network.

Hummel commented on the new DDoS attack patterns:

“Attacks leveraging only one vector decreased year over year by 43%. Combine that with attacks across the board being faster, with more packets per second and shorter duration. It means that the attacks happen in short bursts that overwhelm a target quickly, making mitigation more difficult.”

As security measures are tightening up to cope with threats, there can be little doubt that cybercriminals are shedding the more basic DDoS tactics that are proving ineffective, and adopting more powerful strategies to achieve their aims.