Online knowledge base Wikipedia suffered outage at the weekend following a Distributed Denial Of Service (DDOS) attack. The company released a statement: "Wikipedia was hit with a malicious attack that has taken it offline in several countries for intermittent periods. The attack is ongoing and our Site Reliability Engineering team is working hard to stop it and restore access to the site."
The reports of the incident show confusion about two types of denial of service attack.
A Denial of Service attack uses only a small number of attacking systems (possibly just one) to overload the target. This was the most common type of attack in the early days of the Internet, where services were relatively small in scale and security technology in its infancy.
However, nowadays, a simple DoS attack is often simple to deflect as the attacker is easy to identify and block. One notable exception here may be industrial control systems, where equipment may have a low tolerance to bogus traffic, or may be connected via low bandwidth links that are easily saturated.
In a Distributed Denial of Service attack, the attacker enlists the help of (many) thousands of Internet users to each generate a small number of requests which, added together, overload the target.
These participants may either be willing accomplices (such as attacks initiated by loosely organised illegal "hactivist" groups) or by unwitting victims whose machines have been infected with malware.
A full explanation of these types of cyberattack and how to prevent them can be seen at the National Cyber Security Centre's website here.
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