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DDoS vs DoS: What's the Difference and Why It Matters

When the Network Crashes: DoS vs DDoS Attacks

Cybersecurity continues to be a prevalent subject in different domains. Two frequently mentioned terms in conversations about internet security are DoS (Denial of Service) and DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks. Although these terms may appear alike, they signify separate variations of cyber threats, each possessing unique attributes and consequences. This article aims to comprehensively examine the difference between DoS and DDoS attacks, encompassing their definitions, primary classifications, notable distinctions, and vital approaches to minimize their potential hazards.

What is a DoS Attack?

A Denial of Service (DoS) attack refers to a malevolent effort to disturb the regular operations of a specific system, network, or service. The main objective behind such an attack is to overwhelm the targeted server with excess traffic, resulting in its inability to cater to the needs of legitimate users. This is accomplished by inundating the target with an overwhelming number of requests, taking advantage of system structure flaws, or depleting its available resources.

During a DoS assault, the assailant usually utilizes either one device or a few devices to create malevolent traffic. This straightforwardness sets DoS attacks apart from their more intricate equivalent, DDoS attacks. The attacker's aim is precise: rendering the target's assets, such as bandwidth, processing capability, or memory, inaccessible to authorized users, resulting in service interruptions or periods of unavailability.

What is a DDoS Attack?

A DDoS attack is akin to a DoS attack but distinct in the sense that it involves collaboration among various devices spread across different locations, resulting in a relentless bombardment of malicious data towards the target. This distributed strategy intensifies the attack's effectiveness, rendering it more challenging to counteract than a conventional DoS attack and other attacks in general.

Botnet usage is a prevailing technique in DDoS attacks, involving an attacker's control over compromised computers or devices connected to a network. The coordinated assault from multiple origins carried out by a botnet intensifies the attack's impact. This amplification, combined with the decentralized nature of the assault, grants DDoS attacks greater endurance and the ability to overpower securely guarded systems.

What are Their Main Types of DoS and DDoS Attacks?

Understandably, both denial of service and distributed denial of service attacks are somewhat broad terms, and the attacks under these umbrellas can fall under a few different types.

The common forms of DoS attacks are:

  • Ping Flood Attack: This denial of service attack capitalizes on the Internet Control Message Protocol (ICMP), utilizing a flood of ICMP echo request packets, commonly called "pings." The modus operandi of a Ping Flood Attack involves overwhelming the target system with excessive echo requests, pushing its resources to the brink. The objective is to saturate the target's bandwidth and processing capabilities, leaving it incapable of responding to legitimate user requests and other normal operations. It is a volumetric attack, focusing on the sheer volume of requests to overflow the processing power of target website.
  • SYN Flood Attack: The SYN/ACK Attack (also known as SYN flood attack) exploits the key process of a three-way handshake to establish a Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) connection. This type of DoS attack specifically targets the very first steps of the handshake, in which a client sends a SYN packet to initiate a connection, and the server sends a response with a SYN/ACK packet to acknowledge the request and get a signal to begin the connection. During a SYN/ACK Attack, the malicious actor floods the target network with excessive SYN packets, overwhelming the system's ability to handle and respond to legitimate connection attempts effectively.
  • Smurf Attack: This type of Denial of Service (DoS) attack (also known as ICMP flood attack) relies on a technique where the attacker sends a large volume of ICMP echo requests, or "pings," to an IP broadcast address. The broadcast address causes all devices within the specified network to respond to requests, exponentially amplifying the volume of responses. The unsuspecting victim of a Smurf Attack becomes inundated with an overwhelming number of ICMP echo replies, effectively saturating its network bandwidth and rendering it incapable of handling legitimate traffic. This attack is particularly insidious as it overwhelms the targeted system and exploits the collaboration of other unwitting devices within the network, turning them into unwitting participants in the assault.
  • Teardrop Attack: In a teardrop DoS attack, an attacker manipulates the fragments of IP packets to overlap or create an error in reassembly, causing the particular website or target system to crash, freeze, or become unreachable. This occurs because the target system may not be able to handle the overlapping or malformed packets original correctly, leading to a denial of service for legitimate users.

Main Types of DDoS Attacks:

  • Botnet-based Attacks: A botnet is essentially a network of multiple computers that were compromised or other similar devices, often spanning vast geographical locations, under the control of a single malicious entity—the botmaster. In Botnet-based Attacks, these compromised network devices, called bots or zombies, are orchestrated to work in unison to flood the target with an overwhelming volume of malicious traffic. The strength of Botnet-based Attacks lies in their ability to leverage many devices, each contributing a fraction of the overall attack traffic. The botmaster, wielding control over this network of compromised devices, can orchestrate coordinated strikes with precision. The participating bots' sheer number and geographical diversity make it difficult for defenders to identify and block the malicious attempt of attack effectively.
  • Amplification Attacks: amplification attacks represent a sophisticated breed of Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) assaults that capitalize on the inherent vulnerabilities in certain network protocols. These attacks exploit servers or services that respond to requests with significantly larger responses than the original request, creating an amplification effect. In this method, attackers send a relatively small number of requests with a forged source address to these amplifying servers, tricking them into generating large volumes of data in response. The attacker, thus, substantially amplifies the traffic directed towards the target, overwhelming its resources with such volumetric attacks and hindering its ability to serve legitimate users.
  • Application-layer Attacks: Application-layer Attacks stand out as particularly insidious in the types of DDoS attacks due to their targeted focus on the application layer of the OSI model. Unlike traditional volumetric attacks and targeted resource attacks that aim to overwhelm network bandwidth, application-layer attacks target specific vulnerabilities within applications, exploiting them to exhaust the target's resources. These attacks often mimic legitimate user traffic, making them challenging to detect, as they focus on exploiting weaknesses in the software and protocols used by the targeted applications. These attacks can lead to service disruptions, application downtime, and potential data breaches by overwhelming the application layer.

Main Differences Between DoS and DDoS Attacks


While both DoS and DDoS attacks share the common goal of disrupting a target's services, several key differences set them apart:

  • Scale and Resources: The primary distinction can be seen in the magnitude of the assault and the resources utilized. Usually, DoS attacks focus on one device or a few devices, whereas DDoS attacks use a widespread network of devices, often consisting of thousands or even more.
  • Attack Methodology: DoS attacks rely on overwhelming the target with traffic from a single source. In contrast, DDoS attacks utilize a coordinated effort from multiple systems, making them more challenging to thwart.
  • Resilience and Mitigation: Because of their decentralized structure, DDoS attacks are tougher to counter and require more advanced mitigation techniques than conventional DoS attacks. The defense against DDoS attacks often includes intricate strategies like filtering traffic, distributing load, and utilizing specialized services specifically designed for DDoS mitigation.
  • Impact on Target: The impact of a DDoS attack is typically more severe than a DoS attack's. The distributed nature and amplified scale of DDoS attacks can lead to prolonged service disruptions, causing significant financial and reputational damage to the target.

How to Avoid DoS and DDoS Attacks

Although DoS and DDoS attacks may sound scary, fortunately, there are ways to avoid them and protect yourself from their potentially destructive impact.

Implement Network Security Measures

To strengthen protection against DoS and DDoS attacks, it is crucial to adopt strong network security measures. Creating a resilient network security infrastructure involves implementing firewalls, intrusion detection and prevention systems, and access control mechanisms. Firewalls act as a safeguard between the internal network and external entities, carefully examining incoming and outgoing traffic based on predetermined security protocols. Intrusion detection and prevention systems actively monitor network and/or system operations, swiftly identifying and addressing suspicious activities or potential security risks. These proactive steps enable organizations to quickly detect and intercept malicious traffic before it reaches its intended target, effectively safeguarding against infiltration of network boundaries by DoS and DDoS attacks.

Furthermore, access control mechanisms, like secured configurations and stringent permission protocols, are pivotal in limiting unauthorized access to network resources. It is essential to consistently revise security policies and conduct security assessments to maintain this approach, thereby ensuring the network's ability to withstand emerging threats. By embracing these comprehensive network security measures, businesses establish a robust initial defense system, effectively reducing the susceptible areas for potential attacks and enhancing their overall cybersecurity stance. This strategy becomes particularly crucial in mitigating the potential damage inflicted by Denial of Service (DoS) attacks, which exploit specific vulnerabilities within the network infrastructure.

Use Load Balancers

Load balancers play a critical role in enhancing a network's robustness against Denial of Service (DoS) and Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) assaults. These devices are responsible for allocating incoming network traffic across multiple servers, ensuring that no individual target server becomes overwhelmed by an attack. By cleverly dispersing the traffic among different servers, load balancers prevent any sole point of vulnerability and effectively distribute the workload to maintain service availability. In the scenario of DoS attacks, load balancing aids in evenly spreading incoming traffic, circumventing the overload of a specific server's resources and empowering the network to handle more requests without falling prey to a targeted assault.

Load balancers significantly mitigate the impact of DDoS attacks, where multiple origins work together to overpower the intended target. Forecasting such distributed DDoS attacks is challenging, but load balancers act as a tactical means of defense by dispersing the malevolent incoming traffic across numerous web servers. This minimizes the effect on individual servers and guarantees the overall efficiency and accessibility of services within the entire network. Additionally, load balancers can be programmed to recognize and alleviate abnormal traffic patterns associated with DoS and DDoS attacks, thus reinforcing defense against these persistent risks.

Invest in DDoS Mitigation Services

DDoS protection solutions aim to detect, evaluate, and hinder harmful online traffic, providing an added level of security that surpasses conventional network protection methods. The emphasis is on utilizing cutting-edge traffic analysis methods that continuously monitor to distinguish between genuine user traffic and the recognizable patterns associated with DDoS attacks. Through the use of this comprehensive analysis, DDoS protection services can successfully block out detrimental traffic, enabling organizations to sustain their service availability even amidst a DDoS assault.

In addition, DDoS traffic mitigation services often function globally, strategically dispersing infrastructure to multiple locations. This distribution method enhances the service's ability to withstand geographically diverse DDoS attacks. Once an attack is identified, traffic can be redirected through specialized centers where malicious content is filtered out before reaching its intended destination. This approach minimizes the impact on the targeted network and grants organizations access to specialized knowledge and tools specifically designed to combat the ever-changing nature of DDoS threats. By investing in DDoS mitigation services, organizations can proactively and strategically safeguard themselves against the evolving tactics and increased activity of malicious cyber actors.

Regularly Update and Patch Systems

Regularly updating systems, applications, and network infrastructure is imperative to thwart potential attackers who may exploit known vulnerabilities. When security flaws are detected, vendors issue security patches and promptly installing these patches can effectively seal off any possible security vulnerabilities. Consistent updates not only bolster the overall security of a system but also reinforce its resilience against specific weaknesses that malicious actors may exploit to launch denial-of-service attacks, which deliberately exploit weaknesses within a targeted domain.

Keeping up with system updates is crucial for countering DDoS attacks. Attackers frequently exploit vulnerabilities in network protocols and services, and timely updates serve to address these vulnerabilities. This not only hinders the ability of attackers to breach the system but also showcases the commitment to adhering to cybersecurity protocols. Therefore, companies should adopt a systematic and well-documented approach to updating their network infrastructure, encompassing servers, routers, and interconnected devices. Such proactive measures minimize the potential for attacks and fortify the defensive stance against the ever-evolving landscape of DoS and DDoS threats.

Monitor Network Traffic

A comprehensive approach to protecting websites against Denial of Service (DoS) and Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks necessitates meticulous scrutiny of network traffic. By utilizing diverse network monitoring tools, organizations can discern and examine patterns within network activity, thereby enabling them to detect any anomalous behavior that may suggest an impending attack. By continuously monitoring traffic, organizations can establish a consistent baseline of regular activity, which facilitates the identification of any deviations that might pose a potential threat. This proactive methodology to network monitoring facilitates the early detection of DoS attacks, empowering organizations to respond and mitigate the consequences of such disruptions promptly.

As the frequency of coordinated and distributed DDoS attacks increases, the importance of network monitoring becomes more apparent. Specialized advanced tools can be utilized to identify internet traffic patterns that indicate the occurrence of a DDoS attack. These discernible patterns may involve a sudden surge in requests originating from various locations. Businesses can effectively distinguish between legitimate requests and malicious traffic by continuously analyzing IP data packet fragments in real-time and employing techniques that detect anomalies. This capability enables prompt responses such as redirecting traffic through DDoS mitigation services or implementing filtering measures. Additionally, it is imperative for organizations to regularly assess and improve their network monitoring configurations to ensure they can effectively adapt to emerging threats. By doing so, they fortify their overall resilience against the constantly evolving landscape of DoS and DDoS attacks.

In conclusion, it is important for organizations to understand the difference between DoS and DDoS attacks to improve their cybersecurity. DoS attacks overwhelm a target, while DDoS attacks involve a network of compromised devices. Use mitigation methods to protect your websites from crashing and other consequences.

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Matas has strong background knowledge of information technology and services, computer and network security. Matas areas of expertise include cybersecurity and related fields, growth, digital, performance, and content marketing, as well as hands-on experience in both the B2B and B2C markets.


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What is the main difference between a DDoS and a DoS attack?

The key difference is the volume of attack. DoS attacks are made from a single source, whereas DDoS attacks employ multiple sources (devices) to carry out attacks.

Why do hackers use a DDoS attack instead of a DoS attack?

If hackers have access to a botnet (a vast network of controlled devices), it makes DDoS attacks more efficient than a DoS attack since multiple sources are used to cripple the targeted server.

Are DoS attacks illegal?

Yes, both DoS attacks and DDoS attacks are illegal.

What is the strongest DDoS?

Identifying the strongest DDoS attack is a difficult task due to their diverse range in size and consequences. Nevertheless, a few of the most formidable DDoS attacks have achieved traffic volumes reaching hundreds of gigabits per second (Gbps), overpowering networks and services with robust protection measures.

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