Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) Defense Playbook

December 16, 20234 min read

Playbook Objectives

  • To prepare the company’s IT and cybersecurity teams to detect, respond to, and mitigate a sophisticated DDoS attack.
  • To assess the current resilience of the company’s network infrastructure against high-volume traffic intended to overwhelm systems.
  • To validate the efficacy of the company’s Incident Response Plan (IRP) tailored for DDoS attacks and improve upon it.
  • To ensure appropriate action is taken to minimize downtime and maintain business continuity during an attack.
  • To train personnel in the use of deployed DDoS protection tools or services.
  • To establish a communication protocol for stakeholders during a cybersecurity crisis.

Difficulty level

  • Advanced. Participants should have a solid understanding of network security, incident response, and experience with real-time monitoring and mitigation tools.


  • COMPANY: CyberGuard Inc., a prominent financial services provider specializing in secure online transactions.
  • NETWORK: CyberGuard Inc. operates a distributed network with multiple data centers and uses cloud-based services to manage clients’ transactions.
  • PEOPLE: The exercise involves the entire IT department including the CISO (Chief Information Security Officer), Johnathan Pierce, IT Managers, Simon Gregson and Alisha Kaur, and Network Administrators, along with a Cybersecurity Incident Response Team (CSIRT) led by Ava Chen.
  • SYSTEMS: Primary systems include the company’s transaction server clusters, client database servers, DNS servers, and the corporate website front-end.


  • Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) Mitigation and Incident Response.

Exercise Attack Steps

  • Preparation Phase:
    • Compile a briefing for all participants describing the objectives and expected outcomes of the Cyber Range exercise.
    • Establish monitoring capabilities, ensuring all traffic can be adequately analyzed and parsed for anomalies.
    • Review and distribute current DDoS response plans to all team members.
  • Attack Simulation Phase:
    • Begin with a low-level traffic flood directed at the company’s external-facing IP addresses, specifically targeting the website to mimic a botnet’s initial phase of probing and weakness identification.
    • Escalate to a multi-vector attack, simultaneously engaging different resources, including transaction servers and DNS, using a combination of volumetric, protocol, and application-layer attacks.
    • Simulate the behavior of an actual attacker by adapting and shifting strategies throughout the exercise, trying to evade detection and mitigation, including switching between direct IP and DNS name attacks.
  • Detection and Response Phase:
    • Trigger alerts for anomalous traffic spikes and system performance disruptions.
    • Enact the IRP with specific focus on identifying and categorizing DDoS traffic.
    • Deploy rate limiting, IP blacklisting, and Web Application Firewall (WAF) rules as part of the initial mitigation strategy.
    • Engage external DDoS mitigation service providers as per the IRP and corporate protocols.
    • Coordinate with the network team to reroute traffic through DDoS scrubbing centers if applicable.
  • Communication and Coordination Phase:
    • Execute the communication protocol, ensuring that Johnathan Pierce (CISO) and all stakeholders are kept informed about the incident and the response status.
    • Document all team actions and decisions during the exercise to facilitate post-event evaluation.
  • Recovery and Post-mortem Phase:
    • Once the attack simulation concludes, restore normal operations and verify the integrity of all systems.
    • Conduct a thorough debriefing to discuss the effectiveness of the IRP and the team’s performance.
    • Produce a comprehensive report detailing the observed outcomes, tool effectiveness, team coordination, and any identified weaknesses in the infrastructure or response plan.
    • Recommend strategic improvements to the network’s DDoS resilience and update the IRP accordingly.
Through the detailed simulation of a DDoS attack, CyberGuard Inc.’s IT and cybersecurity teams aim to fortify their defenses, ensuring the security and availability of the company’s core services under the pressure of a real-world cyber threat. The lessons learned and strategies developed during this exercise will be invaluable in bolstering the cybersecurity posture against future DDoS attacks.