How a CDN Can Help Protect Against DDoS Attacks
Whether you have a small business or personal website, it’s critical to have uninterrupted service. If your site is slow to load or, worse still, completely offline, it can result in lost users and customers.
Many factors can lead to poor website performance, but a significant one is a sudden spike in traffic. This can be for legitimate reasons (maybe a piece of content has gone viral!). Unfortunately, it can also be due to far more malicious reasons, such as DDoS attacks.
What are DDoS Attacks?
A sudden, orchestrated increase in traffic to your site for the purposes of flooding your server and rendering your website unavailable is known as a distributed denial-of-service attack, or DDoS. These attacks involve overloading the server where your website is hosted with fake traffic.
From the outside, DDoS attacks might not seem like a big deal. Website downtime is annoying, but is it harmful?
Well, it can be. Being the victim of a DDoS attack can result in lost revenue and can damage your brand. If your site is unprepared and suffers a security breach, people may not want to use it, in case their data is compromised.
DDoS attacks happen all the time to websites and organizations big and small. In 2018, GitHub suffered one of the largest DDoS attacks to date, with its website offline for ten minutes. In 2015 the BBC’s whole network of websites was compromised from a DDoS attack, while in 2019 several South African banking websites were the victim of ransom-driven DDoS attacks.
With these high-profile cases, it might seem like your small business website has nothing to worry about. Unfortunately, small businesses are frequent victims of these attacks and, unlike large enterprises that typically have large pools of resources, have a harder time recovering.
So what can you do to safeguard your site against DDoS attacks? A CDN is a great place to start.
How can a CDN counteract DDoS attacks?
Before we get into that, let’s backtrack a little and talk about what exactly a CDN is and how it works. CDN is short for Content Delivery Network. It is a group of servers distributed around the world. When you use a CDN the content of your website (everything from HTML, stylesheets, videos, and images), isn’t just stored on the origin server where your website is hosted, but copies are also cached (stored) across the group of servers.
The main purpose of this is to offload the bandwidth strain on your origin server to elsewhere — typically the server that is closest to the user who is trying to load your website. This is especially helpful if you have a high-traffic site with users around the world. Because your site content is stored on servers close to them (instead of another continent, for example), load time will be significantly faster, which means they’re more likely to stick around.
Because of the nature of a CDN and how it redistributes traffic when needed, it makes it a great defense against DDoS attacks.
If your website is the target of a DDoS attack, a CDN will help to ensure it doesn’t reach the origin server and render your site completely unavailable. If a server is hit with more traffic than it can handle, it simply sends the traffic to other servers. Your site won’t experience any downtime. Users won’t notice a thing and neither will you.
Even though the biggest companies and institutions have been hit by DDoS attacks among other cybersecurity breaches, downtime can have a negative effect on your business when it comes to:
- Customer retention
- User experience
- Brand credibility
- Search engine rankings
- New customer creation
It doesn’t take make much downtime to make a negative impact. In a world where more than half of website visitors will leave a mobile site if it takes more than three seconds to load, every second really does count. A CDN will help ensure your site is always online, and users will associate it with professionalism and reliability.
Ultimately, the key reason to use a CDN is for peace of mind. When you use a CDN, you can rest assured that your website is secure, performing well, and will always be online.
What to look for in a CDN
A good CDN should have the following features:
- A global network: The wider the distribution of your CDN, the faster your content delivery will be, with no time wasted on website loading and videos buffering. If your site doesn’t have a global audience, it should at least have servers near to where your users are. So, before you sign up, check where exactly the servers are located.
- DDoS protection: While many CDN packages do have integrated DDoS protection, not all of them do. It’s important to read the fine print before signing up, so you’re not in for any nasty surprises or extra costs should your site be compromised later on.
- SSL Integration: SSL certificates secure the data transferred between your website and its users so that their personal information is protected. CDNs should allow you to integrate any kind of SSL certificate for increased security.
- Customization: Every website has different needs, so your CDN should allow you to change the settings to suit your site, whether that be security measures, the length of time assets are cached for, or mobile experience.
- Intelligent caching: A good CDN will anticipate your content delivery needs and should keep assets available on edge servers for as long as possible.
- Good customer support: If things go wrong, you want to know you’ll be taken care of efficiently. Don’t settle for anything less than 24/7 customer service.
A CDN is fast becoming a website essential, especially if you have a global audience. With a CDN you can rest easy in the knowledge that your site will be online 24/7 without delays or security breaches, ensuring you retain current customers and gain more in the future.
Unsure of where to start? Check out Namecheap’s Supersonic CDN to see how you can increase speed, security, and privacy for your website and customers alike.
While a CDN can play a huge role in speeding up your site, there are myriad other steps you can take to ensure your site is reaching peak performance. To learn more, check out this helpful blog post from Namecheap’s Erin Huebscher on why your website’s speed is so important.
Potentially stupid question: I would understand how a CDN would help if all the bots across the world involved in an attack did a DNS lookup, which then point them all to their region’s CDN servers for that site (thereby spreading the load of the attack). However, what if all the bots were programmed to attack the IP address of the main servers (the ones which the CDN source their content from)? I don’t see how a CDN would help in that circumstance, and surely this wouldn’t be too hard to the bot master organise? Are we assuming a botnet… Read more »