While there are various forms of cybersecurity attack vectors circulating on the internet, DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks are among the most difficult to manage and often the most damaging. On the other hand, the number of DDoS attacks all around the world are continuously rising in recent years, including in 2020.
In performing DDoS attacks, many cybercriminals are utilizing the use of botnets, which are devices or computers (owned by ordinary people like you and me) that are under the control of the hacker. The hacker can use the botnet to perform various forms of cybersecurity threats like data breaches, malware injection, spam, and more.
Here, we will discuss how to stop and prevent botnet attacks on your website and server. We will start by discussing the concept of botnet, how botnets are created, and how we can prevent our device from being turned into a member of a botnet, as well as how we can defend against various botnet attacks like DDoS.
Without further ado, let us begin.
- Without further ado, let us begin.
- How Are Botnets Created?
- What Is a Botnet Attack?
- How To Stop and Prevent Botnet Attacks
What Is a Botnet?
First, it’s very important to note that a botnet is not to be confused with the term bot or internet robot, which are often used interchangeably.
A Bot is an automated software program that is designed to perform a repetitive, relatively simple task over the internet. Google’s crawler bot that crawls and indexes our websites is an example of an internet bot performing legitimate, beneficial tasks.
A botnet, on the other hand, is essentially a group of computers or devices that are now under the control of an attacker. A device can be ‘converted’ into a zombie device in a botnet via malware infection, social engineering attack (i.e. the hacker gained administrator password via phishing), or by exploiting other vulnerabilities in the system.
The hacker typically would do all they can so that the victim isn’t aware of the infection, so they won’t perform anything drastic with the device (i.e. only accessing one website every day to perform brute force attempt). If the legitimate owner of the device doesn’t realize that their device is already compromised, then the botnet will be available for as long as possible.
In the past, the target of botnet ‘conversion’ mainly consisted of PCs and servers. Nowadays, however, with various IoT devices and wearables like your Apple Watch being actively connected to the internet all the time, they are also targets.
In fact, many IoT devices are now being the main target to be converted into zombie devices, because they tend to be more vulnerable than PCs, laptops, and servers.
How Are Botnets Created?
Botnets can be created in mainly three different ways:
1. Malware Infection
Typically the malware used is Trojan-based viruses, which disguised themselves as a harmless file, tricking users into clicking the executable file, for example:
- A seemingly harmless email attachment like an attractive image, seemingly important document (invoice, ‘special’ offers, etc.), and so on. Clicking to download the attachment will trigger the malware’s installation
- Software (or .exe file) downloaded from an untrustworthy source, which might be a botnet malware
- Pop-up advertising or notification, clicking on the ad will download an executable file
2. Account Takeover Attack (ATO)
With the help of bots, cybercriminals attempt to gain access to your system’s administrator before taking control of your device from the inside out. Bots can either perform brute force attacks (attempting all possibilities of your credential) or credential stuffing attacks (trying acquired/stolen credentials on your system) in an attempt to gain access to your account.
3. Social Engineering
The attacker can research various information that can be used as a vulnerability, and then use the information to launch a phishing attack to gain a user’s credential before gaining access to the device.
What Is a Botnet Attack?
A botnet attack is, simply put, a malicious activity attempted by cybercriminals with the help of botnets.
Various types of DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks are the most common form of botnet attacks, where the hacker will use the botnet to send a massive amount of requests and/on traffic to a website or web server to overwhelm it and prevents it from serving its users (hence, denial of service).
However, there are also other forms of malicious attacks that can be performed by botnets, including but not limited to:
- Spam attacks: send spam and fraud emails in an attempt to fraud the recipient, infect the device with malware, and other means.
- Cryptocurrency mining: a common type of cybersecurity threat in recent years, the botnet would be hijacked to mine cryptocurrency.
- Fraud traffic: generate fake web traffic or fraud-clicking ads to drive revenue
- Ransom: infect devices with ransomware and ask for money to ‘release’ the device, or coerce payment from users to remove their device from the botnet
- Spyware: the botnet spies for user’s activities like passwords, credit card information, and other sensitive data, and then will report it to the botnet’s owner. The attacker can then sell this sensitive data on the black market.
How To Stop and Prevent Botnet Attacks
The best approach to protecting your website and web server from botnet attacks is to invest in an advanced anti-bot mitigation service that can perform real-time botnet detection in less than 2 milliseconds.
Also, since most attempts to convert our device into a member of a botnet also use bots, especially in account takeover attack (ATO) attempts, by using a proper bot mitigation solution we can effectively prevent the attack.
The thing is, we can’t simply rely on a free and obsolete bot mitigation solution due to two main challenges:
- We wouldn’t want to accidentally block traffic from good bots that are beneficial for our site. For example, Google’s indexing bot. The bot detection solution must be able to effectively differentiate between good bots and bad bots.
- Newer malicious bots are getting much better at impersonating human behaviors like performing non-linear mouse movements, random typing patterns, etc. Traditional approaches like fingerprinting browsers, IP addresses, etc. may no longer work.
Due to the sophistication of today’s shopping bots, a bot management solution that is capable of behavioral-based detection is recommended. DataDome is an advanced solution that uses AI and machine learning technologies to detect and manage bot traffic in real-time.
In preventing botnet attacks, we have to consider two different things: preventing our devices from being converted into members of a botnet and protecting our network and system from being attacked by botnets, especially in DDoS attempts.
Investing in a real-time anti-botnet detection software such as DataDome remains the best approach to protect your site from malware, botnet attacks, and other cybersecurity threats.