What Are DDoS Attacks?

Beginner Oct 23, 2021 · 5 min read

Key Takeaways:
— The recent social media outage made headlines around the world, but just what are DOOS attacks?
— DDOS stands for designated denial of service, and is a method by which a system can be attacked and disabled by a malicious actor
— DDOS attacks function by overloading a blockchain network’s servers with requests, resulting in the server losing connectivity to its other applications
— For users, a DDOS attack on a blockchain network results in the network “shutting down” for a period of time, meaning transactions cannot be processed 
— The more decentralized a blockchain network is, the more secure it is against a DDOS attack

If you are familiar with the crypto space, you probably have come across the recent news of the Solana shutdown. But just what are DDOS attacks – and what do they mean for your crypto?

It was a DDoS attack that put the Solana network at a halt for about seventeen hours. The services were shut down and if you were a user, you’d remember everything involving Solana was unavailable for several hours. 

Short for Distributed Denial of Services, a DDoS attack is a malicious attempt to spam or hack a network. Though a DDoS attack is frequent in the internet industry, it has started to grip the cryptocurrency space. In this blog, we will learn about Crypto-based DDoS in detail and find out how it occurs, as well as, ways to stop them if such attacks occur on a blockchain network.

What is a distributed denial of services attack (DDoS)?

A DDoS breach can be defined as a cyber-attack carried out by perpetrators seeking to temporarily block a blockchain network for its users by disrupting the host services. It is essentially done by flooding the incoming traffic using separate sources, which makes it impossible for the host to block a single source and often results in overloaded systems. 

Let’s simplify it with a real-world example of a UK exchange EXMO that recently went under a DDoS attack:

Attackers targeted the exchange by sending multiple transactions worth $75 million from different sources. The sudden increase in the trading volume overloaded the servers. Since the traffic was coming from multiple sources, it was difficult for the EXMO security team to identify which one is legitimate or illegitimate. The whole incident affected the servers and crashed them. 

A DDoS attack does not always result in the loss or theft of data or crypto assets. It costs time – more crucial than money. 

How is a DDoS attack carried out?

On any network, a DDoS attack is carried out with the help of a large number of infected computers, also called a botnet. Once a botnet has established a connection with the network, its controller can direct an attack by sending instructions to each bot. 

These bots then start sending requests to the IP address of the target, thereby flooding the network, resulting in the denial of service to the regular users. As each bot is a legitimate device, it becomes impossible for the network to separate them from normal traffic. 

Let’s simplify it by understanding the recent attack on Solana. 

On September 14, a bot began to spam the Solana network, leading to a sudden increase in transactions that peaked at 400,000 per second. The validators responsible for verifying these transactions started to lag because their leader responsible for validating transactions couldn’t even validate its own transactions due to the backlog pushed towards it. Since validators did not have enough computing power, the high volume of transactions knocked down some of those validators and buried the network. Due to the overloaded systems, the Solana network could not fulfill legitimate requests and went down for seventeen hours.

DDoS on crypto networks

Cryptocurrencies are based on blockchain networks, which are considered safe due to their secure consensus mechanisms like Proof-of-Work or Proof-of-Stake. Though blockchains are decentralized and no single point of failure exists for the attack, an attacker can overload a blockchain by sending bits of data, causing the underlying network to utilize its remaining processing power. The blockchain server can then lose connectivity to applications, including wallets or exchanges. In addition to Solana, DDoS attacks are seen in other blockchain-based networks, like:

  1. Attack on Bitcoin mining pools: Last month, the website registered by Satoshi Nakamoto, Bitcoin.org, was attacked by a DDoS attack. The attacker crashed the website by sending overwhelming requests and demanding a ransom of 5 to 10 BTC. 
  2. Attack on BitFinex and OKEx: In 2020, both crypto exchanges, BitFinex and OKEx, suffered a DDoS attack. Attackers exploited some of the built-in features of the exchanges and overwhelmed the server. The platforms had to shut some of their services. 

Though many blockchain applications faced a DDoS attack in recent years, it is difficult to attack bigger and more distributed networks like Bitcoin and Ethereum. Since their nodes are distributed across the world, attacking them becomes financially unfeasible because the efforts exceed the rewards.

How to identify and mitigate a DDoS attack?

An easy way to identify such an attack is when the network slows down or shuts itself down. The services remain unavailable for a certain time. Although similar scenarios can happen during high traffic, further investigation is necessary to find the real source of the attack. Signs like massive instant traffic or unexplained surge in the requests are some of the telltale signs of a DDoS attack. 

The first step to avoiding a DDoS attack is by choosing a highly decentralized blockchain whose nodes are widely distributed. The degree of protection of a blockchain against these attacks is directly proportional to its number of nodes and hash rate. It’s why Bitcoin and Ethereum are extremely resilient to DDoS attacks. Furthermore, keep your funds secure in a separate wallet instead of a centralized exchange so they remain safe and accessible in the case of a disruption. 

Moving forward

The rising popularity of cryptocurrencies and other blockchain-based financial applications has brought in a playfield for both good and bad actors. While the space is filled with revolutionary protocols and innovative platforms, it is also plagued by perpetrators trying to make quick money. Though the impact of DDoS attacks aren’t severe, they still put a dent in the whole crypto ecosystem. Besides, we are not sure how well DDoS attacks can grow in the near future. Their disruptions can be more severe. Nonetheless, with the right safety measures, you’ll continue benefiting from this growing industry.  

Knowledge is power – so keep on learning! If you enjoy getting to grips with crypto and blockchain, check out our School of Block video Why is Bitcoin So Hot?

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