A very common misconception when discussing cybersecurity is to think that the terms “botnet” and “bot” are similar to each other. While there are indeed some connections between the two, they are two different things.
A bot, or to be exact, an internet bot, is a computer program or software designed to perform automated tasks over the internet. Bots can be good or bad: there are good bots owned and operated by reputable individuals or companies, but there are also bots used by cybercriminals and hackers to perform various malicious tasks.
However, a botnet is something else altogether, and in this article, we will answer questions like what is a botnet? What is a botnet attack? How does a botnet work? And especially, how to protect your website and system from botnet attacks?
Without further ado, let us begin.
What is a Botnet?
A botnet is a term used to describe a group of compromised machines or devices that are under the control of a cybercriminal (or cyber criminals). Typically these devices are infected with malware or malware bots and can be used by these cybercriminals to carry out various attacks– the botnet attacks, such as data breach or data theft, malware distribution, or a massive scale DDoS attack.
A major challenge in identifying and managing botnet activities is that it’s quite often a victim doesn’t even realize that their devices have been turned into a part of a botnet. Thus, a botnet attack comes from a seemingly legitimate human user, and distinguishing these botnet devices from ‘healthy’ devices can be extremely difficult.
How Botnets are Made?
The term ‘botnet’ comes from the words ‘robot’ and ‘network’, and as these words suggest, botnets are built by cybercriminals so they have a network of robot devices that they can use in carrying out larger attacks.
By having a botnet under their control, a cybercriminal can launch much larger-scale cyber-attacks at a much faster rate. A botnet can consist of hundreds if not thousands of devices, allowing hackers to be much more efficient and in launching their attacks, which translate into more dangerous botnet attacks for us.
A botnet consists of two different elements:
1. Bot herder: or bot herders, is, the ‘leader’ of the pack, a machine that sends commands to other devices in the botnet.
2. Zombie devices: the compromised user devices that have been under the control of cybercriminals. These devices follow the commands sent by the bot herder.
The actual infection of a device so it can be turned into a zombie device can happen in three distinct steps:
The cybercriminal identifies a vulnerability as a way to infect the device. These vulnerabilities can come in various forms: an unsecured website the device frequently visits, an application installed in the device, or even human behavior (i.e. via phishing).
In this stage, the victim’s device gets infected with the malware. Again, the infection can happen in various different forms, for example when the user clicks on an email attachment or download something from an infected website. Regardless of the infection method, in this step, the cybercriminal is successful in infecting the machine.
The operator of the bot herder then organizes all the compromised devices into a botnet network that can be controlled by the bot herder.
Once a device has been infected and turned into a zombie device, the bot herder can instruct these devices to perform various operations such as:
- Sending the owner’s personal and sensitive data to the bot herder
- Sending files
- Reading and writing system data
- Monitoring user’s activities and use the information for various malicious means
- Looking for vulnerabilities in other devices in contact with the zombie device
- Installing new (malicious applications)
And so on.
What Kind of Devices Can Be Recruited Into a Botnet?
The basic answer is that all devices that can access the internet can be turned into zombie devices, including but not limited to:
- PCs, laptops, and other forms of traditional computers.
- Mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. More people are now actively using mobile devices to browse the internet, making these devices prominent targets in recent years.
- Internet hardware like routers, modems, servers, etc. can also be infected by malware and turned into parts of a botnet.
- IoT devices, including wearable devices (smartwatches), smart home devices, and so on.
It’s very important to install anti-malware/antivirus solutions on all these devices as basic protection against botnet attacks.
Different Types of Botnet Attacks-
Once a device has been infected and turned into a zombie device, the hacker can use these devices for various forms of botnet attacks, including:
Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS):
one of the most common forms of botnet attacks is to use the botnet to overload a website or network to crash it.
using botnet devices to send large-scale spam emails to steal sensitive information like banking data or user credentials.
Brute force attacks:
using the zombie devices to guess an account’s password to take over the account.
How to Protect Your System from Botnets-
The most effective way to prevent botnet attacks is to install a proper botnet detection solution capable of blocking both DNS-level botnet attacks and HTTP/HTTPS-level attacks.
We’d recommend investing in solutions that prevent and protect against botnets in autopilot. DataDome doesn’t require your intervention and management effort, and it will protect your website traffic from botnet activities in real-time, while also protecting your mobile apps and API endpoints.
When DataDome detects a new botnet attack on its customers’ websites, the algorithm is instantly updated to automatically protect other customers’ websites from the same botnet in less than 50 milliseconds.