How my site was taken down by a denial of service attack

This is your friendly neighborhood exmuslim.
On September 1st 2020 my blog came under cyberattack. They managed to take down the site by making it very slow to load. Here’s what happened

What happened was my site was DOSSed. This stands for denial of service attack. This means my site was receiving thousands of visits per second from different locations on the internet. The attack was sent via the anonymous TOR network and originated in many different places so it was not possible for me to know where the real attack originated or who the attacker was. DOS attacks can be so large that they can take down major sites. In Feb 2018 a massive attack took place on GitHub (which is a code hosting website). In 2016 they managed to shut down major sites like Airbnb, Netflix, PayPal, Visa, Amazon and so on.

One way they do it is they have a network of sleeper PCs and servers that are compromised. When they want to attack, they wake up these PCs, which are often hacked to send out these thousands of requests. Your own PC may be part of this network if you are not careful. If you visit shady websites, download hacked software, or engage in other risky behavior such as using TOR, you may also be compromised without knowing it.

The TOR network is a technology that bounces around requests in such a way that makes them difficult to trace. TOR is often used by criminals to trade in illegal substances and order attacks on individuals or servers. For as little as $100 you can order a cyberattack on a target website. Now keep in mind that this is completely illegal. Sending a denial of service attack is against the law and could even be considered terrorism. If you decide to engage in such activity, FBI or others may get involved. Whoever did this broke the law.

Now my blog is already optimized using caching so it can handle a normal high load, but not a targeted attack like this.  My site is hosted on a VPS. This means it’s a virtual private server. So its not beefy enough to handle a DOS attack. But as I showed, even big sites can be taken down if the DOS is big enough.

Here’s how I solved the problem. This is going to be a bit technical so bear with me. First I added cloudflare, but unfortunately this did not help. The reason why is because the attack had already started and they were directly accessing my server. So this only prevented new visitors but not existing ones. Then I replaced the webserver. This was the most important step. Going from apache to lightspeed allowed me to turn on anti-DOS features. Apache also has these, but lightspeed is a premium webserver that can handle larger traffic loads more efficiently.

Also, I turned on IP limiting and now the bad IPs got automatically banned. I then changed my server IP address. My new IP is masked by Cloudflare and so spammers cannot get to it directly. Even this is not enough. If this attack happens again the blog may still go down. So I am now working with a friend to try to get a better solution in place. I am going to move the blog from a shared hosting to a dedicated cloud based solution which will probably cost around $400/year for just one blog. I’ve also taken additional steps to back up all of my videos and podcasts as well as my blog. You can never be too careful. The content I have created is my life’s work and I don’t want to lose it.

What can we do? First of all, no matter who you are, make sure you are following best security practices. Don’t let criminals get to you. ALWAYS use two factor authentication whenever possible. Make sure your email account is secured by SMS or by using a code-based authenticator app. Use a password manager (I recommend lastpass) that allows you to have a different password for every site. Then you just need to remember one password. Don’t click on any links you don’t know about. If you are on a windows PC, run as an unprivileged user (a standard user, not an admin account). Some people ask me about using a VPN. If you are in a country that might be spying on you, this is an additional step you can take. I personally don’t do this since I don’t have any issues with my ISP or government but might consider it in the future.

Additionally, don’t go on TOR unless you have a good reason to. If you need anonymity, use it very carefully as it’s the wild west out there. The rest of us need to continue the good fight. Fighting against bad ideas comes with risks. Certain groups will do anything they can to silence you. In Muslim countries that includes vigilante violence, threatening your family, and using government blasphemy laws. If you are in a Non-Muslim country with freedom of religion and expression you are much better off. Then they resort to cyberattacks and hacking. If you need technical help contact me and I will assist if I can.

If you liked this article, consider supporting me.  I’ll add you to my special mailing list, you’ll get early access to my videos and my eternal gratitude. Remember, guiding someone away from Islam is better than 10 red camels. You can quote me on that hadith. 😜

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