Ever since the internet first became widely available there have been people looking to use it for malevolent purposes. The methods for attack have changed with as much frequency as the purpose, but a recent trend has been emerging recently that is proving to be a thorn in the side of organisations the world over; DDoS. Action is being taken however, and Google have recently announced their answer .
DoS stands for “denial of service” and refers to an attack that aims to overwhelm a system, most commonly with a flood of simultaneous requests sent to a website to view its pages, causing the web server to crash or become otherwise unusable. As a result, legitimate users who try to access the web site controlled by the server are unable to do so.
Simple DoS attacks are becoming increasingly uncommon and have been replaced by DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks that come from many computers distributed across the internet, sometimes hundreds or thousands of systems at once. These attacks emanate from thousands of machines at once, meaning they are difficult combat by simply blocking traffic from machines. The nature of a DDoS also makes it incredibly hard to trace to a single computer, meaning finding a culprit can often be virtually impossible.
Google Jigsaw (formerly Google Ideas) has been working on a solution to the DDoS problem and is offering Project Shield to sites from any “independent” news site – in other words, one that’s not owned by a government or political party. The reasoning behind this is because DDoS attacks have been used as a form of censorship in recent years, with governments or government-sponsored hackers endeavouring to bring a website down at a critical time – like before a protest.
Larger organisations can apply too but the Project Shield team leader George Conard says the initiative’s real target is small, under-resourced news sites that are most vulnerable to DDoS attacks. Conrad explained in his own words; “Just about anyone who’s published anything interesting has come under an attack at some point. The smaller and more independent voices often don’t have the resources, whether technical or financial, to really put good protections in place…That’s where we come into the picture.”
The way that Project Shield works actually sounds quite simple on the surface. You can apply and then change your domain name configuration so it directs to the Google server. This then sifts through the traffic and looks for malicious requests, screening users for your site whilst at the same time taking off some of the load on your own servers.
Google have stressed that Project Shield isn’t about making money, far from it. Preventing DDOS attacks, Jigsaw argue, is good for the Internet. “We just don’t think that DDOS attacks should exist,” Jigsaw president Jared Cohen says. “We hope that Shield can do for DDOS attacks what Gmail did for spam.”