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A botnet is a collection of web connected devices including servers, PCs, mobile devices, and IoT devices, that are infected and controlled by shared malware. A system commonly becomes part of a botnet without the user even realizing it. These hijacked devices can be used to carry out distributed denial-of-service attacks, steal data, send spam – or even remotely access the local network of a device.

The architecture of bot networks has evolved over time, adapting to newer security systems in order to avoid detection or disruption. Traditionally, bot programs are constructed as clients that communicate via existing servers. But many recent botnets rely on existing peer-to-peer networks to communicate. These P2P bot programs have the same capabilities as botnets operated within the client-server model, but they communicate directly with each other, avoiding the need for a central server.

How Botnets Work

Botnets are used to distribute spam through email, undertake click fraud attacks, and initiate DDoS attacks.​​​​​​​ Botnet malware will repeatedly scan the internet looking for exposed systems or IoT devices, rather than targeting individuals or companies, in order to infect as many devices as possible. The computing power and resources of a large botnet are leveraged to automate tasks while remaining hidden from the device owner. The botnet stays concealed through a number of tactics. A major method is to piggyback onto a devices browser. By using a small portion of the device’s resources, the increase in traffic is too small for the user to notice.

Because such a small amount of computing power is used from each hijacked device, botnets require numerous devices (sometimes numbering in the millions) to produce a desired effect on an intended target.

Botnet Architecture

Botnet infections are regularly spread by malware of some kind. This malware will scan systems or devices for common points of vulnerability, like an out of date OS, or an open firewall, with the goal of breaching as many systems as possible.

Once the botnet network reaches a desired size, attackers control the bots using one of two approaches:

  • Standard client/server approach: A command-and-control server sends automated directions to all of the infected systems in the botnet. There are a number of ways this communication can be routed: through an IRC channel, through basic HTML, or by using a VPN. Detection can be difficult because bots can be programmed to remain dormant in order to avoid suspicion. They will listen for commands and then ‘wake up’ to launch any malicious activities.
  • Peer-to-peer approach: A more modern approach – used to avoid suspicion by law enforcement or network security systems – peer-to-peer bots fix the problem of C&C domains and servers being targeted by communicating through a decentralized network. All of the bots connect directly with each other, avoiding the need for a central communication system.

Notable Botnet Attacks

  • Zeus: One of the major forms of malware that exists today. Zeus is built around a Trojan horse program that infects vulnerable systems by pretending to be an innocuous piece of software.
  • Srizbi: At one point the largest spam botnet in the world. Srizbi is commonly referred to as the “Ron Paul spam botnet”, and was at one point responsible for almost 60 billion messages a day. During its peak, It accounted for just under half of all email spam at any given point.
  • Gameover Zeus: This botnet used a peer-to-peer network approach, making it harder for law enforcement and security vendors to locate and terminate. Infected bots used a domain generation algorithm to communicate with each other.
  • Methbot: Run on approximately 800-1,200 dedicated servers in data centers located in both the U.S. and the Netherlands. The infected servers produce fake clicks and mouse movements, and forge social media account logins to appear as legitimate users.
  • Mirai: Built to scan the internet for unsecured devices. Once it identifies an open device, the malware attempts to log in with a series of common passwords. If the logins don't work, Mirai uses brute force techniques to guess the password.

5 Ways Bad Bots Can Devastate Your Online Presence

Every second, thousands of bots roam around the web. Many are helpful, but others are malicious. Some bots crawl pages and catch content thieves, while other bots serve spam, scrape information, and generate fake ad impressions.

You know malicious bots are bad, but do you know exactly how these bots are damaging your online presence?

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5 Ways Bad Bots Can Devastate Your Online Presence

1. They Tarnish Your Brand Name

When customers give you personal or financial information through forms or online purchases, they’re trusting your company with keeping that data secure. But bad bots can steal that data from your site, potentially putting your customers and your reputation at risk.

Bots Can Spam You With Questionable Backlinks

Spammers may use bots to sell backlinks from your site to clients and then comment on your blog posts with poor-quality links from their clients. Basically, they’re selling backlinks from your site to their clients without your permission.

Sometimes, the links the bots post can be fairly benign, but they could also send your readers to questionable websites run by scammers selling anything from malware to fake pills.

Bots Can Steal Sensitive Information

Many web users are wary about sharing their personal information with even the most trusted of websites. So, when users do willingly give away that data, having it stolen becomes a huge concern for website owners. They want to make sure the trust of their customers isn’t at stake.

Unfortunately, lots of bots out there are built to steal any information that users put into forms and comments. They’ll use that information to build a spam campaign, or they’ll sell it to a competitor.

Some bots are even advanced enough to harvest your customers’ financial data. You need to take extra precautions to make sure bots can’t access your customers’ sensitive payment data by regularly updating your site security.

Bots Can Get You Blacklisted

From killing your site’s load time to spamming your visitors with unwanted download links, bots can discourage any legitimate visits you might get from potential customers.

blog-wordpress-malware-removal-chrome-blacklist-warningsIf you don’t take proper steps to block malicious bot activities, your site may be flagged and blacklisted by search engines, such as Google. Visitors landing on blacklisted sites are met with a security warning message that they must review before proceeding. Blacklisted sites usually see a dramatic drop in traffic, thanks to these warning messages.

2. They Damage Your SEO Ranking

How well your site ranks on a SERP depends on many factors: fast load time, content quality, trustworthy backlinks, etc. However, some bots can cripple your website enough that it’s no longer functional or reliable, which causes your SEO ranking to plummet.

Bots Can Crash Your Website

Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks occur when botnets are used to target and overwhelm a single system with the intention of crashing it.

Most DDoS attacks last less than four hours, but some can exceed over 200 hours. A shorter DDoS attack, while still bad, won’t hurt your SEO ranking too much, but a longer one will. In the event of an attack, you’ll want to secure your website as soon as you can to help prevent any future attacks.

Bots Steal and Plagiarize Your Content

Bots can easily steal all of the high quality content you’ve carefully crafted for your site. They’ll post it elsewhere without your knowledge or permission, and they won’t give you any credit for it, either.

Search engines consider duplicated content as plagiarized. Your site’s SEO ranking could drop as a punishment for copying, even if you’re the original publisher.

Related Post: What Is a Bot? How Do Bots Impact Your Digital Ad Campaigns?

It’s hard to catch these bots, too. The only way you’ll really know your content has been scraped is if you’re actively checking for it.

Bots Can Slow Your Site Speed

When bots invade your website, they bring hefty chunks of data with them. They’re extremely invasive, and they’ll automatically slow down your site. Not only will this cause your users to go elsewhere out of frustration, but it’ll also damage your quality score.

3. They Corrupt Your Analytics

Every site owner wants their analytics to be accurate. You need analytics to know how much traffic comes through, how successful your marketing efforts are, and how well your site is doing as a whole. But bots can mess with your analytics by interacting with your site and giving you false data.

Bots Can Click on Your Ads

Known to advertisers as click fraud, bots interact with your ads by clicking on them, ultimately falsifying your click-through rate (CTR). Bot interaction basically renders your ad campaigns useless, because you’re paying for ads that only attract false bot clicks. These clicks drain your advertising budget, and then your ad no longer shows to legitimate traffic.

Bots Can Fill Out Customer Forms

Beyond just clicking ads, more sophisticated bots can actually fill out forms on your site. Phony form fills flood your database with fake customer information, which can alter your conversion statistics and make it seem as though you have more leads than you really do.

Download this e-book to better understand bots, how they affect your digital  marketing campaign, and how to minimize your company’s risk with an ad fraud  solution. >>

Even worse, if you’re collecting information like phone numbers and you’re not properly vetting each lead you receive, you could risk TCPA noncompliance if you call the number without proper consent.

4. They Affect Your Revenue

Any security threat carries a potential loss of revenue. But when it comes to bots, there’s an even greater risk: bots work harder and faster than a hacker who’s trying to bypass security manually. And unlike a human working on a single task, bots can be programmed to harm you financially in more ways than one.

Bots Can Spy for Your Competitors

Certain bots, either working on behalf of a competitor or a data reseller, are designed to crawl your site and gather information about your product details and pricing. No matter how hard you try, you won’t be able to gain an edge over the competition, because these bots are constantly sharing your information with others looking to exploit it.

Bots Can Collect Your Data

Data aggregators are a specific type of bot who can steal any research you’ve done or data you’ve spent money gathering and release it for free. The value of your now-public data will essentially be nonexistent, so you’ll no longer be able to profit from it.

Bots Can Skew Your Advertising Costs

When bots mess with your analytics, that can affect the cost of your advertising. Publishers will be able to charge a lot more for ad space, because they’ll reference your inflated traffic traffic numbers (even though they’re bots). This means that advertisers will probably end up paying inflated prices for artificial traffic.

Bots can also mess with any A/B testing you do. They’ll automatically click on everything, as they’re programmed to do, so you won’t know which ads are actually performing well.

5. They Target Your Customers’ Devices

Anyone who visits your site can become a victim if your website is full of injected ads or download prompts for spam and malware. 

Bots Can Clickjack You

Clickjacking occurs when bots trick you into clicking on a site and filling out a form by making the legitimate website transparent and layering it over a fake website. The visible page looks completely normal, but when you click, you’re actually interacting with the transparent page.

Anura_2-1Source: Smart Techverse

On a clickjacked page, anything can happen. You may be giving hackers and fraudsters access to sensitive information as you click around on the visible site. Clickjacking bots can also trick you into activating electronic bank transfers, liking social media pages without your permission, downloading malware, or even making online purchases.

Bots Can Infect Your Site’s Code

If your site’s security isn’t up-to-date, it’s pretty easy for bots to inject malware codes into your HTML header. The code is usually hard to detect, too, because it could look similar to your site’s real code.

It’s possible that these injected codes allow bots to redirect your traffic to sites your audience never mean to visit. This is exactly what the MosQUito jQuery script does to Joomla or WordPress sites. The MosQUito script takes traffic coming into your site, either from search or paid advertising, and then directs it elsewhere.

How to Combat the Bad Bots

Catching the bots is just the first half of the challenge, and fighting them can be impossible. The best approach is to take preventative measures so bots can’t touch you in the first place.

Related Reading: How to Protect Your Brand and Consumers From Bad Bots

1. Search for Copies of Your Content

Pull a quote or two from your content and do a search for it. If you see a match from a website that you didn’t give permission to use your content, you’re probably a victim of content scraping. Or, you can use a site like Copyscape to do the heavy lifting for you.

2. Delete Spam

Browse your blog’s comments regularly and delete any comments that contain spam or questionable links. It might take a while, but it means your readers are at a lower risk for malware schemes.

3. Block Untrustworthy IP Addresses

It’s not 100% effective, since some bots have multiple IP addresses, but you can block the known addresses of bots to keep them from coming back for another attack.

4. Block Known Bots

On top of blocking questionable IP addresses, you can also copy a starter list of known bots to your site’s .htaccess file to block them from accessing your site.

5. Test the Speed of Your Site

If you’re continually testing, you’ll know when your site slows down, which could be a sign that bots are infecting your site’s code.

6. View Your Site in Incognito Mode

You can keep tabs on your SEO rank this way, and you can also see how your website appears to customers. You’ll know if they’re being served any spam or if they’re getting redirected to an unfavorable site.

7. Filter Your Traffic

Traffic filtration helps you block the bad bots before they interact with your site and cost you time and money. You’ll be able to make sure that your ads are appearing to real people and not bots.

No matter what you do, some bad bots will slip through your security net. However, you can make sure that you’re educated about bots and taking every precaution you can to prevent a bot attack. It’ll keep your stress levels down and your customers’ online experience positive.

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This article was originally posted in August 2017 and has been republished with new information.

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Radware Bot Manager Partner Program

ShieldSquare is now Radware Bot Manager

ShieldSquare is now Radware Bot Manager

Radware Bot Manager partner program is designed for service providers and resellers whose customers own online businesses.

The exponential increase in online businesses has opened up opportunities for bad actors that write malicious bot programs to gain an unfair advantage over the targeted websites. A simple change in robots.txt or having an in-house anti-bot solution is ineffective. Combating the constantly changing bot threat landscape, bot types and their behavior requires a dedicated bot mitigation solution.

If your customers are worried about content/ price scraping, application DDoS, account takeover, gift card fraud, form spam, skewed analytics, fake leads, and so on, you can protect their Web, mobile, and API assets with Radware Bot Manager real-time bot prevention solution.

Key partner benefits:

  • Provide a strong security value-add to your customers
  • Flexible partner plans and incentive models
  • Access to presales and support teams to efficiently roll-out the security solution to your customers
  • Customize deployment options to suit your customers’ business requirements

Please fill in the form now to get in touch with us.

  • Testimonial

    We onboarded Bot Manager in the midst of our peak season, and saw immediate results/benefits. Our customer’s experience are our top priority. By working with Radware we are able to better secure and improve the shopping experience

    Daniel Padevet, Head of Web & IT Operations Team

  • Testimonial

    We’re extremely happy with Radware Bot Manager that not only takes care of blocking all the bad bots but also provides comprehensive bot analysis. Radware Bot Manager have really kept their promise of zero false positives, as a result we are able to satisfy our website visitors better than ever!

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    Purch Group Inc.

  • Testimonial

    We could see a considerable reduction in the spam leads after integrating Radware Bot Manager. We were able to customize the algorithm based on our business needs and it improved the overall quality of the leads we deliver to our clients. It’s an awesome product!

    Federico Barbagallo, Product Director


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What is bot management?

Bot management refers to bot detection as well as the blocking of undesired or malicious Internet bot traffic, all while still allowing useful bots to access web APIs and properties. It may deploy mechanisms such as allow and block lists, rate limiting, and bot traps, for mitigating the risk and damage of bot attacks. As internet traffic becomes more bot-driven, comprehensive bot management provides the best defense against the numerous automated threats — such as application-layer DDoS attacks, as well as SQL injection risks and spam campaigns — that can harm business applications.

Explore additional Bot Management topics:

Why is bot management necessary?

The same fundamental features that make good bots so useful also make bad bots so threatening.

A bot can automate a broad spectrum of activities, ranging from crawling for purposes of search engine indexing, to supporting real-time chat interfaces for customer service and business intelligence. But this efficient automation can be leveraged for scalable and highly effective cyberattacks, too. Common examples include but are not limited to:

  • DDoS Attacks: A coordinated botnet can receive and execute instructions for overwhelming its targets with junk traffic. Advanced Layer 7 DDoS attacks use bots that appear to be sending legitimate requests.
  • Vulnerability Scanning and Probing: Malicious bots may continuously look for vulnerabilities in internet-facing web applications and APIs. If found, any weakness can be exploited by cross-scripting (XSS), SQL injection and related bot-dependent attacks.
  • Account Takeover: Bots may be used in credential stuffing and password spraying attacks, both of which involve attempting to break into accounts by brute-force guessing - a task to which bot-driven automation is naturally suited.
  • Spam and Malware Distribution: The automation of a botnet can fuel massive spam operations that deliver malware to countless inboxes. Phishing attacks can be scaled using botnets capable of sending billions of such messages every day.

To mitigate these risks and others, modern bot management solutions perform bot detection – through IP address analysis, bot signatures, device fingerprinting and behavioral analysis. Bot management solutions enable you to reliably defend your web applications and APIs from every type of bot attack, from a basic attempt at password spraying to a highly sophisticated botnet-powered DDoS campaign.

How does bot management work?

Bot management follows a lifecycle from bot detection (identifying the bot) through bot action (allowing or denying the bot traffic) and finally to bot reporting (logging the nature, origin and action taken of bot traffic). Moreover, it can work in tandem with solutions like web application firewalls (WAF), DDoS mitigation solutions, API defense and protection for both monolithic and microservice-based applications, to deliver streamlined, holistic cybersecurity across environments.

Bot detection

Multiple bot detection techniques are supported by modern bot management solutions:

  1. Bot signature files and profiles
    A bot management platform maintains an active, up-to-date list of known bots and their signatures, which can be added to bot profiles for more reliable bot protection. By drawing upon this information, bot management solutions can then identify anomalous bot activity on the network and block it before it accesses and attacks important applications and/or APIs.
  2. Transactions per second (TPS)
    Bot activity can be detected through TPS. By setting a time interval, bot management solutions can flag incoming traffic if the number of requests and the percentage increase in traffic exceed that parameter.
  3. Malicious IP address blocking and IP reputation analysis
    How can you accurately score the risk from a given bot and its requests? The regularly updated list of malicious IP addresses in bot management solutions makes doing so much more straightforward. IP reputation analysis also lets you know if a bot originates from a risky domain with a history of being involved in cyberattacks.
  4. Device fingerprinting
    With bot management, you can deploy multiple forms of behavior-based bot detection and control, including device fingerprinting. A device fingerprint identifies a client as a unique entity, based on attributes such as its IP address, screen resolution, browser attributes, HTTP request headers, and installed fonts. This fingerprint in turn can be used to block malicious yet legitimate-seeming bad bots as necessary.
  5. Bot traps
    A trap URL may be configured to identify malicious bot activity. The URL is advertised in the client response, but it is invisible to human users and not accessed by good bots. A common use of bot traps is to catch bad bots that have ignored a site’s robots.txt file and are attempting to scrape content or send spam traffic.

Bot action and reporting

Together, these bot detection techniques enable bot management tools to manage and log bot traffic in accordance with bot policy rules, with support from mechanisms including but not limited to:

Rate limiting and related traffic controls

Using the traffic management features in a bot management tool, it is possible to set limits on designated bot traffic and prevent bad bots from entering the network, even if they have made it past other detection mechanisms. For example, an unknown bot that is not contained on either an allow list or a block list can be rate-limited so that it cannot overwhelm an API or microservice architecture. Bot management solutions may also redirect and drop bot traffic once it is flagged by any of the above detection techniques.

Allow list and block list deployment

Setting up allow lists and block lists for specific bots is an effective route toward ensuring that good bots are allowed to access web apps and APIs, while bad bots are kept at bay. Each allow list or block list can be customized to include particular IP addresses, subnets and policy expressions, enabling you to determine if a bot’s origins are acceptable.

Reporting and followup

A bot management tool can provide analytics about average bot transaction requests per second, bot-to-human ratios for virtual servers, bot severity ratings and geographic origins and event histories of when bot signatures were added and updated. This information is valuable for fine-tuning the overall range of actions in a bot management strategy.

Citrix bot management as one piece of the security puzzle

To effectively manage bots and contain malicious bot activity, Citrix Bot Management is integrated into Citrix ADC and supported by Bot Insights within Citrix ADM. Bot management is also a core component of the multi-layered protection provided through Citrix Web App and API Security (CWAAP).

Citrix Bot Management works alongside the DDoS attack mitigation measures, WAFs, microservices security, artificial intelligence, and machine learning capabilities in CWAAP. Through the aggregation of information from bot management servers and Citrix ADCs, CWAAP ensures you have comprehensive security that is always up-to-date. Moreover, as a cloud-delivered managed service, it is easy to configure and deploy from a single pane of glass.

Additional Resources


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