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I have a small company designing, programing, and maintaining websites. I host my websites on a shared hosting plan (cpanel). I received an email 2 days ago that there was a DOS attack and the provider changed the IP address as a result. I then had to change the nameserver IP and wait for the DNS propagation. This almost took 2 -working- days during which my clients had no access to their emails or website. Also, the downtime will affect the websites in the short-term (ranking, etc.). So, I could only sit and wait not being able to do anything while my clients were furiously calling me (I don't blame them).

So my questions are:

  • Is it the proper response for the hosting company to change the IP when a DOS attack occurs? I switched from a company that used to shut down the servers in similar occasions (!)
  • What can I do to defend myself from this happening again. Although a small company, until now I had a stellar reputation. I don't want this to happen again.

Moving to a dedicated server will not change anything if their policy is to change IP at a DOS attack. Another option I found is the failover DNS which requires mirroring all the sites to a second server (double cost) and I haven't read the best things about this practice. Are there other alternatives?

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    This sounds a bit dubious to just change the IP address. Much better to find the source of the attack (assuming it's not DDOS) and block that at the entry point. I would probably be looking at a more decent host. However, a service like CloudFlare might help you in the future. – Tim Malone May 7 '16 at 8:15
  • A CDN as CloudFlare, Akamai, ect could help to stop or mitigate DoS attacks against a web server, but if the attacker knows the backend IP address (because ftp, ssh and email servers can't use cloudflare, so they need to use real IP) the problem still the same, they will attack the origin server, not CDN. – OscarGarcia May 7 '16 at 8:45
  • Yes that's true. Not sure about the others, but I know Cloudflare makes it pretty clear when setting your DNS records of the risk of doing that. Of course, if you use offsite mail (eg. Google/Office365) and only you know your FTP IP, you'd be in fairly good shape. – Tim Malone May 7 '16 at 9:11
  • Changing the IP address is the cheapest and fastest solution, however, they just scr3w3d you in the process. Any webhost worth their salt should be able to knock down the requests via their firewall. All webhosts who know what they are doing should have negotiated the placement of an up-stream router that they have control over that prevents over-loading their pipes. It sounds like it is time for a new host. Be that as it may, a short-term outage has no effect on SEO what-so-ever. Do not worry about that. These things happen. It is just part of the landscape that 5h17 storms will occur. – closetnoc May 7 '16 at 12:49
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If it is a small/middle sized company with limited bandwidth (<1-10 Gbps) changing IP address pool is the best, cheaper and quicker option.

Only carriers, CDN providers or big companies can mitigate DoS attacks with other solutions (and the bandwidth is not a problem for them).

About DNS propagation, whois registers are the one that takes a very long time, DNS entries could be changed quickly and propagate as quick as their TTL expires.

This is a example about TTL cache:

redstar@nvidiastar:~$ dig +nocmd +noall +answer www.google.com
www.google.com.     72  IN  A   216.58.201.132
redstar@nvidiastar:~$ dig +nocmd +noall +answer www.google.com @216.239.32.10
www.google.com.     300 IN  A   74.125.206.147
www.google.com.     300 IN  A   74.125.206.104
www.google.com.     300 IN  A   74.125.206.103
www.google.com.     300 IN  A   74.125.206.99
www.google.com.     300 IN  A   74.125.206.106
www.google.com.     300 IN  A   74.125.206.105

When I look for a DNS resolution my ISP DNS answer me a IP with a TTL of 72 seconds. To know what is the TTL you must to ask a DNS server for that domain (216.239.32.10 is one of them). In google the entries have 300 seconds TTL, so they can change their IPs and the propagation time is 5 minutes at most.

Using a backup DNS server in another network would solve the situation.

There is free secondary DNS providers that you can use. I user Twisted4Life for several years, but you can check BuddyNS too or search "free secondary dns" in any search engine.

And talking about free secondary DNS servers, you can use CloudFlare as free DNS server too as well as a CDN that caches (or not, you can disable that functionality) your static content.

  • I don't advise any free DNS service for any type of business due to the fact they can not be held accountable. – Simon Hayter May 7 '16 at 9:50
  • Thanks for the answer. Could you clarify what you mean by "use backup dns server"? – electrique May 7 '16 at 10:02
  • If you have your secondary DNS server in another ISP, then it's a real backup server because it will be online for users that can't resolve our reach your new/changed IP address. So changes made on it will be available sooner to your customers than a NIC (whois) NS change. Take a look to twisted4life, for example. It's about allow quicker DNS changes, not to have a complete backup server solution. – OscarGarcia May 7 '16 at 10:39
  • Only carriers, CDN providers or big companies can mitigate DoS attacks is not true at all. I am retired now, however, I was a webhost for many years and a network consultant to all the major telecoms both in the U.S. and globally. I fell victim to a proxy attack at my home office that lasted for over a year. It was easily mitigated using my up-stream router. For many with commercial network connections, this is extremely possible without changing the IP address. Any webhost of any size that is not a reseller, should easily be able to do the same. – closetnoc May 7 '16 at 12:44
  • Some ISP or carriers can put firewall in the outer side of a hosting/housing provider (because in the inner side is not useful against bandwidth issues), but it is not cheap and the hosting/housing prices rises when the connection prices rises as well. If it is a modest provider it is a good solution, but if the attacker knows that the service provider changes their network range, the solution is not useful. And there is a lot of DoS and DDoS attacks, and many ways to avoid, mitigate, combat or solve them, but we don't know anything about the details about the attack and their decision. – OscarGarcia May 7 '16 at 13:05
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Is it the proper response for the hosting company to change the IP when a DOS attack occurs? I switched from a company that used to shut down the servers in similar occasions

I can't see you gaining any advantage with an IP address change because 1, an IP address change causes your website to not be ready until the domain name TTL expires which may take several days. and 2, serious hackers will scan every single IP on the internet for systems that can become easy targets for attacks. Shutting down the server might be a better idea, depending on the attack.

What can I do to defend myself from this happening again. Although a small company, until now I had a stellar reputation. I don't want this to happen again.

Check your system resources and websites.

Make sure the web server software is running efficiently

Make sure your web server doesn't have a timeout setting that's too high, and make sure your scripts running on your server do not lag (for example, don't execute a script that contains an infinite loop).

In apache, there is only x number of open slots available to process scripts. Once all these slots are used up, then further connections to apache will have to wait until a slot is freed. Slots are freed the moment that either a timeout occurs or the moment the last byte of a result (HTML page or image or raw code, etc) is sent.

The value for x is important. If set too low, then guests could be waiting longer than usual for a page to be served, especially if one guest downloads a file several gigabytes in size. Remember, each resource requested uses one server slot. For a typical page, this means 3 slots could be used at once for roughly 200 milliseconds each. One slot for the HTML, one slot for the website icon (favicon.ico?) and one for an image in the page.

If x is set too high then the feeling of DOS may occur even more because then swap memory (memory from the slower storage space: the hard drive) will be required since the system will run out of actual RAM while trying to handle requests.

Maximize ports

There are only so many ports a server can have open at once. Some servers out of the box are configured to open a very limited number of ports. Increase the range as much as possible without overlapping ports used by other system daemons. I have a server with WHM/cpanel, and I set my port range to 5000-65535.

Most Importantly

Pay attention to your scripts and watch your timimg.

When you make a page, go on webpagetest.org and run the URL through it. Choose the Native connection setting under connection speed and if the time to first byte is over 400ms from the farthest point away from your server and the remote device is not mobile, then you know you're in trouble.

Also, as I said, check all your scripts on your server. Make sure none of them run an endless loop or otherwise hog resources. Also, check server override files (such as .htaccess if you're using apache) for anything malicious.

Secure Everything

Finally, secure everything. Close ports (by dropping requests to it) that the world does not deserve. I closed off the MySQL port (just in case anyone wondered why their face went red when endlessly trying to access my MySQL server).

The only port all users should have access to is port 80, the web server port.

Only open other ports if necessary. And definitely close port 22 and 23 since hackers know those as the standard back-end shell access ports. In fact, if you need shell access, use a different port.

  • The DoS (or DDoS) attack was against service provider, probably against another client. The DNS changes are as slow as their TTL (at most). Having 300-1800 seconds as TTL is very common, so changes are working at a maximum of 5-30 minutes. Whois changes (NS records on domain registrars that you can query with command "whois example.com") are slow, from hours to days, but if only one DNS IP is affected by the change then the other DNS servers will answer client DNS queries and update resolution of web o another server as soon as a little TTL as 300-1800 seconds expires. – OscarGarcia May 7 '16 at 20:50

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