Websites are under attack. In fact, according to what's reported, it seems like these attacks are happening now on a daily basis. And when it comes to who is behind them, perpetrators range from political activists looking to make a statement, to enterprising criminals hunting for soft targets and spammers after a quick buck. So what form can these attacks take? And what can be done by web hosts to mitigate the likelihood of an attack being effective?
Denial of Service
The most well-known of these intrusion attempts that web hosts have to deal with is the Denial of Service attack. A DOS attack is when a flood of service requests is sent from the attacking machine to the intended victim machine in order to prevent the victim machine from responding to genuine requests from legitimate machines on the network or internet. The flood of requests causes the victim machine to exhaust its resources in replying to these fake requests. Typically memory or CPU usage or band-width is the resource that becomes exhausted on the victim machine. But DOS also has a big brother DDOS.
A Distributed Denial of Service attack is when multiple compromised machines act together to generate a service attack. A DDOS attack is typically orchestrated by a bot net featuring either a single or a series of command and control servers all controlling what can be in the tens of thousands and even millions of infected zombie machines. Zombie machines can be recruited into the bot net by a number of ways: drive-by download; exploitation of web browser vulnerabilities or the installation of a Trojan horse program. The actual usage of a large scale web hosting firm in the first place is the first step in helping preventing a DDOS attack. Large scale web hosting firms have massive bandwidth resources making it a far greater task for would be DDOS attackers to flood that bandwidth. Web hosting firms also have the equipment in advanced firewalls to dynamically block IP addresses of offending machines.
Network Port Hacking
Port scanning software is readily available for genuine network troubleshooting but used by those with less honourable intentions to identify open network ports which can then be exploited due to either weak or default passwords. Network port hacking is considered to be opportunistic in its nature. It's the thief taking advantage of you forgetting to lock the porch door after he has tried every porch door in the street. Small businesses lacking in IT resources but running their own in-house web servers are susceptible to this. Again, a large scale web hosting firm has the people and tools to test all its own networking equipment and server ports to make sure these easily fixed vulnerabilities are not a problem.
The Human Touch
All data is only as secure as its weakest link and it's often the case that the weakest link is the human interaction with that data. How well do you know your web host- well enough to invite them round for tea and biscuits? Doubtful. But it's worth remembering that the employees of the web hosting firm have pretty good access to your website and potentially any data that is stored in any database that resides behind that website. When selecting a web host, do your research on who is able to access your data, and what data access controls are in place. And read up on handy hints and tips about protecting yourself from cyber crime.