Cybersecurity Glossary: Denial of Service (DoS)

A Denial of Service (DoS) is a cyber attack meant to shut down a machine or network, making it inaccessible to its intended users. DoS attacks accomplish this by flooding the target with traffic, or sending it information that triggers a crash. In both instances, the DoS attack deprives legitimate users (i.e. employees, members, or account holders) of the service or resource they expected.

There are two general methods of DoS attacks: flooding services or crashing services. Flood attacks occur when the system receives too much traffic for the server to buffer, causing them to slow down and eventually stop. Other DoS attacks simply exploit vulnerabilities that cause the target system or service to crash. In these attacks, input is sent that takes advantage of bugs in the target that subsequently crash or severely destabilize the system, so that it can’t be accessed or used.

Many technologies have developed mechanisms to defend against most forms of DoS attacks, but due to the unique characteristics of DoS, they are still regarded as an elevated threat and are of higher concern to organizations that fear being targeted by such an attack.

Victims of DoS attacks often target web servers of high-profile organizations such as banking, commerce, and media companies, or government and trade organizations. Though DoS attacks do not typically result in the theft or loss of significant information or other assets, they can cost the victim a great deal of time and money to handle.

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