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Preventing DDoS Attacks on Critical Infrastructure in 2020

By: Blair Felter on May 13, 2020

Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks remain a major cybersecurity threat for today’s organizations. After 2018 ended with a relatively mild quarter, 2019 saw a significant spike in the overall number and intensity of DDoS attacks. While there has been plenty of attention on malware-related cyberattacks during the COVID-19 outbreak, preventing DDoS attacks should remain a top priority due to the substantial risk they pose to critical infrastructure.

How DDoS Attacks Work

A DDoS attack is a relatively simple, but extremely effective, form of cyberattack. While many cyberattacks use various types of malware to infect systems and compromise sensitive information, DDoS attacks present a more straightforward threat that can forcibly crash an entire network within seconds.

In its most basic form, a DDoS attack turns the principles of computer networking against a system by bombarding a server with ordinary access requests. When a data packet arrives requesting access, the server must process it to determine its identity, origin, and credentials. In the case of a DDoS attack, the end result of this processing is largely irrelevant. The cyberattacker isn’t interested in whether or not access is granted. What they do care about, however, is tying up the server’s processing capabilities until it can no longer process requests quickly enough to keep up. The overworked server eventually crashes, potentially taking the entire network down with it if there’s no backup solution in place.

Launching a DDoS attack requires minimal resources and are typically carried out using what’s known as a “botnet.” Cybercriminals use malware to infect multiple systems with malicious code that is designed to send repeated access requests to a targeted server. When multiple computers are infected, botnet attacks could be sent by hundreds or even thousands of systems. These volumetric attacks rely on the sheer scale of the assault to wear down a network, but other strategies involve multi-vector attacks that hit a system from a variety of directions to keep cybersecurity mitigation off balance.

How DDoS Attacks Threaten Critical Infrastructure

The downtime caused by a successful DDoS attack can inflict tremendous damage upon any organization. When systems go down and organizations lose access to critical data and applications, they stand to lose revenue, miss out on opportunities, and suffer significant damage to their brand. The consequences can be much more serious when it comes to digital infrastructure, however.

In March of 2020, the US Department of Health and Human Services was hit by a DDoS attack just as the agency was scrambling to provide information and critical services in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. While the attack was unsuccessful, the potential impact of a successful attack would have been enormous. With the HHS system down, it would have been easy for cyberattackers to spread disinformation, set up fake government websites, and potentially steal data from network systems left exposed. In this particular case, the attackers were likely seeking to undermine the government’s coronavirus response.

Given how much government agencies and private businesses rely upon their network systems, it’s easy to imagine a scenario where a DDoS attack on critical infrastructure could create widespread chaos. So easy, in fact, that a recent study found that 74% of IT security professionals are more concerned about cyberattacks targeting infrastructure than they are about enterprise data breaches. That’s because attacks targeting infrastructure are more likely to endanger physical health and safety as opposed to security breaches involving data. Even with purely digital infrastructure, the loss of cloud computing capacity or IoT functionality due to a successful DDoS attack could result in high levels of disruption across multiple industries, such as manufacturing, healthcare, and logistics.

Mitigation Strategies for Preventing DDoS Attacks

The relatively low costs of launching a DDoS attack makes them a serious threat for any organization. Fortunately, there are some helpful risk mitigation strategies that companies can use to protect themselves. While many businesses turn to specialized DDoS mitigation solutions from managed security service providers (MSSPs), colocation data centers can also provide very effective protection through blended ISP connectivity.

vXchnge’s vX\defend service, for example, leverages multiple connectivity providers to help colocation customers identify and DDoS attack pathways before they have an opportunity to bring down servers. By incorporating multiple routing paths, vX\defend can redirect network traffic before it reaches the data center to identify and eliminate malicious access requests. This ensures that network services remain up and running even when an attack is underway. Burstable bandwidth can also help organizations to handle temporary spikes in traffic, giving their cybersecurity solutions precious extra time to respond to an attack.

In the event that DDoS mitigation strategies fail to stop an attack, all is not lost. Effective backup systems can help preserve data availability even when uptime is compromised. Whether backup solutions are deployed in a separate data center location or through virtualized cloud backups, having a disaster recovery plan in place is absolutely essential for effective business continuity.

Preventing DDoS Attacks with vXchnge

With multiple data center locations in key growth markets across the US, vXchnge is positioned to provide effective risk mitigation services to a broad range of industries. Thanks to our 100% uptime SLAs and groundbreaking vX\defend DDoS mitigation, our data centers are engineered for perfection and reliability. To learn more about how vXchnge data centers can help you protect your critical digital infrastructure, talk to one of our colocation experts today.


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