The more connected that our gaming experiences become, the more opportunities arise for cyberattacks and other forms of exploitation. Xbox users know this reality all too well. While competitive gaming is cross-platform, Xbox has a particular reputation for being the home of the FPS aka First Person Shooters. Halo: Combat Evolved and other games that were Microsoft exclusives for the Xbox all made their home on the platform and revolutionized the genre. This can be compared in some ways to how Half-Life 2 revolutionized shooters not just for the PC, but all platforms. As time has gone on, the Microsoft system has continued to see beloved shooters in other genres become exclusives. Such games most prominently include the Gears of War franchise.
While all online multiplayer games have a strong competitive nature, FPS games tend to bring out the worst in people. There was a joke on the internet once that “if you can handle being in an Xbox 360 lobby, you can handle anything.” The verbal abuse, taunts, threats, and more are all a normal part of gaming online in any platform, and Xbox in particular is no exception to this.
It should come as no surprise, then, those cyberattacks are all-too-common for gamers on Xbox consoles. Players on any platform can be victims of this, but for the sake of this article, we will focus on Xbox alone. Many of the things discussed here, however, can be applied to other gaming platforms.
The most common attack faced in online gaming is the Distributed-Denial-of-Service or DDoS attack. It can easily disrupt an online gaming session, especially if you’ve made one too many enemies or are constantly head of the leaderboards. Some people are simply unable to handle losing and are willing to do anything to stop you.
This article will seek to help you, the Xbox user, prevent DDoS attacks on your system. In order to understand how to stop a DDoS attack, one must first understand the ins and outs of the attack.
What is a DDoS Attack
A DDoS attack is an evolved version of a Denial-of-Service attack. A DoS attack uses one, and only one, machine to flood a target. In the case of the DDoS attack, the attack is multiplied by the hundreds or even thousands. How is this accomplished? A botnet is a key to all DDoS attacks as it allows an attacker to command a multitude of devices.
A botnet is formed via infecting or exploiting vulnerabilities in devices. This could be a regular desktop computer or any smart device that is connected to the Internet-of-Things (IoT). These compromised devices are called “zombies,” and are joined one-by-one until an attacker has the power they desire. Zombie is a term that conjures up an entity controlled by an infection and is only able to perform basic tasks. In many ways, this is similar to a computer zombie in a botnet. Once commanded by an attacker, the machine has no ability to function except at the behest of the infector. Computers as a whole are quite dumb; they pretty much do exactly what you program them to do. Add in a malware or vulnerability exploit, and they are prime targets for cybercrime activity.
The attacker in question is able to control their botnet via a Command-and-Control (C2) server. This server sends out all commands to the zombie machines and also allows the botnet to send data retrieved during an attack back to the C2.
Controlling a botnet is a complex process that has gotten easier over time. The reason for this is that many botnets are now available on the Dark Web for rental. Simply pay via cryptocurrency like Bitcoin, and you have a powerful attack method at your disposal. The interface to control a DDoS-as-a-Service botnet is easy to understand, making it all the more dangerous. Many famous, or rather infamous, DDoS attacks in recent years can be traced to “DDoS booter” services. One such example that affected the gaming community would be the Lizard Squad attacks. The Lizard Squad, a script kiddie group masquerading as a hacking collective, was based in the United Kingdom. Through a DDoS-as-a-Service created by two now-incarcerated Israeli hackers, the members were able to bring the Playstation Network and Xbox Live to its knees.
With all of this in mind, what can you do should a DDoS attack hit your Xbox gaming session? As you will soon discover, there is quite a lot that can be done. You simply need to have a plan of defense should a DDoS attack take place.
Learn more about DDoS Attacks
What to do when your Xbox suffers a DDoS attack
First of all, there are some telltale signs that a DDoS attack is about to happen. When playing in an online match, you may start getting messages that threaten you. They will say things that more or less spell out impending doom if you don’t comply. Should these not be empty threats and a DDoS attack occurs, all connectivity in your place of residence will go out. This doesn’t just mean your Xbox, but all internet activity as well.
If you are certain that a DDoS attack is in fact occurring, first, reset your internet router. You must completely power off the router for roughly ten minutes to try and stop the DDoS attack from continuing. A DDoS attack is only as successful as the connection it has. If the botnet can no longer connect to a server, router, or other entity, the attack will no longer work. Upon resetting the router, there’s a chance you get a new forward-facing IP address when connected to the Xbox network. Without a VPN, however, this is not guaranteed (more on this later).
Next, contact your Internet Service Provider (ISP). If you let them know you are experiencing a DDoS attack, they may be able to trace its source. They can then involve law enforcement trained in these attacks and try to hunt down the identity of the attacker in question. Xbox support is not able to help you in this regard, but they can help you with the next step.
If you know the gamer tag of the individual, or individuals that are attacking you, you can report them to Microsoft’s Xbox support team. Press the Xbox button and look at recent players. Find the gamer tag, click on the profile, then select “report.” Under the report, select the option for “tampering,” add more information to aid support in the comment box, and finally block that individual. Xbox reporting is spotty at best, so at the very least blocking them should provide some peace of mind.
Preventing Xbox DDoS Attacks
Preventing attacks against yourself when gaming on Xbox is not all that dissimilar to regular DDoS mitigation. The first line of defense you should employ is a strong firewall. Some DDoS attacks target specific ports that, if a firewall is configured properly, the packets sent during the attack will not reach your router. While firewalls are a good start, they are not the end of the story as many DDoS attacks bypass Intrusion Detection Systems. Depending on the individual attacking you, they may be a script kiddie or somebody that has actual technical knowledge. Don’t assume they are going to be the former.
The next line of defense against DDoSing is a third party service dedicated to DDoS mitigation. These services can be expensive, so your budget will determine whether or not it is for you. The advantage of having third party DDoS mitigation is that they are able to intercept the attack in totality. Services like this are able to discern between legitimate and malicious traffic, as such, they can break up the packets and reduce the load on your connection. Typically large enterprises employ these services, so unless you are prone to frequent Denial-of-Service, it may not make sense to use it for just Xbox gaming.
One of the key defenses to employ is a Virtual Private Network or VPN. A VPN hides your static IP address behind an encrypted connection. This makes it virtually impossible for an attacker to find your true IP address, which is required for a DDoS attack to work (at least against a router).
PureVPN is a strong choice for this last option. We utilize AES-256 bit encryption to hide your true IP address from attackers. This encryption protects you from DNS leaks, IPv6 leaks, WebRTC leaks, and anything else that would give away your true identity and location. Additionally, PureVPN specializes in WiFi security, and since most Xbox’s connected to the Live network via WiFi, you’ll know you are in good hands. With over 2,000 servers in more than 140 countries, you will never have to worry about finding a decent connection.
Playing online video games always carries an element of risk. The more competitive the game, the more likely the chances exist for harm to come to you. Some people really take video games too seriously and are willing to commit acts of a criminal nature to get ahead. When on Xbox, or any gaming platform, keep your wits about you. Try not to antagonize other players, because you never know what that player is capable of doing to you.
Rest assured, if you follow the guidelines written out in this article, you should be more equipped to deal with cyberattacks. DDoS attacks are a reality of the current threat landscape, and they are here to stay. They have toppled nation-state websites, multinational corporations, and small businesses.
With a proper defense plan, however, your Xbox Live session doesn’t have to be threatened by them.