In a matter of minutes, a distributed denial-of-service — or DDoS — attack can bring your website traffic to a grinding halt.

In the past, these attacks were more of an annoyance than a serious threat, but this has changed. DDoS attacks are growing in both size and frequency. Major attacks saw a 967% increase between the first quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019. Recovering from an attack like this could cost a small business hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Why Is a DDoS Attack Destructive?

There are several DDoS attack variants, but in general, cybercriminals will use these types of attacks to block legitimate traffic to a website. Multiple remote-controlled computers on different networks flood servers with “fake” requests. The web of machines used to launch the attack is called a “botnet.”

Often, the glut of requests will cause the host server to crash, taking the targeted website offline. Even if the attack fails to crash the website, it might slow it down enough to render it unusable to visitors.

The Cost of a DDoS Attack

The loss of legitimate website traffic in the wake of a DDoS attack can be costly for businesses of all sizes. According to a 2018 study from Coreo, DDoS attack victims stand to lose up to $50,000 in forfeited business revenue per attack.

And yet, for most companies victimized by DDoS attacks, reputational damage is even harder to recover from than financial losses. Failing to protect yourself on the internet is a surefire way to lose customer trust, and that trust can be hard to win back.

Why Do People Launch DDoS Attacks?

While DDoS attacks can be costly to victims, they’re relatively cheap for cybercriminals to execute, which is one reason they’re growing in popularity.

A cybercriminal won’t see any financial gain directly from a DDoS attack (unless a third-party pays them to carry it out). Usually, cybercriminals use DDoS attacks as a diversion, capturing the attention of the target organization while data theft or malware injection is carried out behind the scenes. Other motives might be political, egocentric, or retaliatory in nature, and almost anyone can hire a cybercriminal to carry out a DDoS attack.

Spotting the Signs of a DDoS Attack

Diagnosing DDoS attacks can be tricky because the symptoms of an attack often resemble non-malicious availability issues such as slow site speeds or network problems.

However, if the connection to your site is unusually slow, or your site is completely unable to connect to the network, you might be experiencing signs of a DDoS attack. Similarly, if you notice an unusual or unexpected surge in website traffic that lasts for days, rather than just hours, or a significant spike in spam emails, you could be under attack.

How to Stop a DDoS Attack on Your Website

It’s cheaper and easier to prevent a DDoS attack than it is to recover from one. But how are DDoS attacks prevented?

Your first line of defense should be a web application firewall (WAF), which can protect your website against even the most potent DDoS threats. WAFs with DDoS support redirect malicious traffic to other content delivery networks, distributing the load away from the server. You can use your firewall in conjunction with a website scanner or some other intrusion detection system to identify malicious bot traffic and remove malware promptly.

Some administrators will also create alerts that notify them when an anomalous traffic load is detected or automatically drop network packets that fit certain criteria. Even if you don’t have the technical expertise to do this on your own, your firewall and web scanner will make it relatively easy for you to detect and eliminate threats.

If a cybercriminal does successfully execute an attack against your site, your WAF will be able to assist you in mitigating it. On the other hand, there’s no way to fully disrupt a DDoS attack without a firewall. If you’re targeted and you don’t have one in place, you’ll most likely have to ride out the attack.

As a small business owner, it’s critical that you know how to prevent a DDoS attack on your website. These attacks will only get more common in the future. Particularly as unsecured Internet of Things (IoT) devices become more prevalent, cybercriminals will have a growing number of attack vectors. Don’t make yourself an easy target; take steps to strengthen the security of all your devices now.

Monique Becenti is a product and channel marketing specialist at SiteLock, a cloud-based website security provider currently protecting more than 12 million websites globally. Monique is passionate about improving the customer experience for all. SiteLock’s combination of dedicated research and developmental efforts, aggressive product road maps, and access to a massive global data set make the company a leading innovator in web security.