Back to the Blog

What’s the Difference Between a DoS and DDoS Attack?

Mark Lukehart

cybersecurity team in office

DoS and DDoS attacks are two common types of cyberattacks. Both attacks have the same end goal — flooding your system, making it impossible to use. However, they use different methods to carry them out.

There are some key differences between these two types of attacks, but they both can have serious repercussions. Here’s what you need to know about the differences between DoS and DDoS attacks, as well as ways to prevent them at your business.

Key Takeaways

  • DoS attacks come from a single source, while DDoS attacks come from a network of devices.
  • Both attacks focus on overwhelming the targeted network with requests so that it crashes or times out.
  • DDoS attacks are more complex, happen faster, and are more difficult to trace than DoS attacks.
  • IoT devices are often used as part of DDoS attacks due to their poor security features.
  • To prevent DoS and DDoS attacks, you may need to restructure your system so it’s more difficult to override.
  • Working with a managed service provider can help you monitor your system for malicious spikes in traffic.

Understanding DoS Attacks

A denial-of-service attack, or DoS attack, is when a hacker sends a huge volume of requests to a target server at once. This overwhelms the server and prevents the associated website from loading properly. 

There are many different types of DoS attacks, including Smurf attacks, SYN flood attacks, buffer overflow attacks, and more. Each of these attacks uses a different method to create excess traffic on the server. 

DoS attacks are often done as a form of distraction. For example, the hacker could start with a DoS attack to crash the server, and then exploit system vulnerabilities to steal sensitive data.

Some hackers will also use these attacks to cause another organization financial harm. For example, if a major retailer’s site is down for even a few minutes, their sales will drop. 

Understanding DDoS Attacks

Distributed denial-of-service attacks, or DDoS attacks, have the same goal as a DoS attack — to overwhelm the target server and prevent it from working properly.

However, DDoS attacks use a network of machines to launch their attacks, rather than just using one machine. Hackers will create these networks by using malware to take over other computers and create a botnet. A botnet is a network of infected computers that the hacker can control entirely from one place.

IoT devices like smart home systems are particularly susceptible to malware and are often used in botnets. In fact, these attacks are on the rise, with more than 1 million IoT devices engaged in botnets as of June 2023.

Most DDoS attacks fall into one of three categories: volumetric attacks, protocol attacks, and application layer attacks. Many hackers opt for DDoS attacks because they are more powerful than DoS attacks. By using a network of machines, hackers can take down systems faster.

What’s the Difference Between DoS and DDoS Attacks?

Before we dive into the differences between DoS and DDoS attacks, it’s important to note some of their similarities. If you’re targeted by these attacks, they can be financially devastating, interfere with your operations, and erode trust with your customers. The downtime cost of a DDoS attack costs organizations a whopping $6,130 per minute.

Some of the key differences between DoS and DDoS attacks include:

DoS attacksDDoS attacks
Number of attack sourcesCome from a single systemCome from a large network of devices
Scale and impactSmaller scaleLarge scale, take time to recover from
ComplexityNot complex, can identify source Complex and happen quickly, very difficult to pinpoint the source
Prevention StrategiesIncrease your network’s bandwidthSecure your network devices with strong passwords and firewallsUse a content delivery network to redistribute system trafficUse cloud-based DDoS prevention software

How Can a Managed Service Provider Help?

If you’re concerned about DoS and DDoS attacks on your system, a managed service provider (MSP) can help. MSPs provide expert third-party IT services to support your organization.

If you have an in-house IT team, an MSP can support you by shouldering some of the workload for safer, more efficient operations. If you don’t have an in-house IT team, you can outsource important IT tasks to your MSP. MSPs can scale their services to grow with your team and address new concerns as they come up.

An MSP can help you reconfigure your web servers and implement new cybersecurity protocols to create a safer system. They’ll help you develop a strategy that makes sense for your organization in the long run.

Additionally, an MSP can help you with network monitoring. 24/7 monitoring is often essential for catching DDoS attacks, but small and mid-sized businesses don’t always have the resources to implement it. An MSP will keep a close eye on any potential threats to your system, and they will be there to respond right away in the unlikely event of an attack.