DDoS attacks are getting worse, as attackers shift tactics and targets

Attackers are using smaller bandwidth attacks to last longer, and do more damage.

(Image: stock photo)

Attackers that harness the power of thousands or millions of devices to flood networks with data are shifting tactics to pack a smaller, but much longer-lasting punch.

Distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks may grab headlines for downing sites and services, but companies are fighting back. Every day there's a new line of defense against network flooding attacks.

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But those attackers are shifting tactics that keep them one step ahead of the game, according to Akamai's latest internet security report published Tuesday.

The first three months of this year saw a record number of DDoS attacks, more than double from the year-ago quarter. While last year, high bandwidth attacks of short duration were the norm, the profile has shifted to longer, sustained attacks using less bandwidth.

How these attacks are carried out has also changed. Attackers are increasingly exploiting Simple Service Discovery Protocol (SSDP), a common protocol in most modern networked devices -- including routers media servers, webcams, and games consoles. With widely available tools, they can seek out misconfigured and unsecured devices connected to the internet to launch larger, coordinated attacks against their targets.

Not only that, the target of these attacks has shifted. Little by little, malicious actors are shifting away from financial gain and making it a far more personal mission.

Gaming became the most targeted industry since mid-last year, accounting for one-third of all recorded attacks, fueled by hacking groups seeking to gain media attention.

And it worked. Sony's PlayStation Network was one of the gaming platforms hit by the attackers, with Microsoft's Xbox Live network later in the year. Both attacks made headlines for their ferocity and timing, particularly around the December holiday season.

Other interesting nuggets from the report:

  • As a result, the number of "mega attacks" using more than 100 Gbps of bandwidth has gone down.

  • The largest DDoS attack observed in the first quarter of this year peaked at nearly 170 Gbps in bandwidth.

  • China topped the list of DDoS attack sources, accounting for 23 percent of all responsible traffic during the first quarter. Germany was second with 17 percent, and the US came in third with about 12 percent of the traffic.