Organizations are increasingly falling prey to the threats posed by bot attacks.
A majority of the companies in the entertainment, e-commerce, travel, and financial sectors have stated that they have been attacked by bots in the past. This was revealed in the Bot Management Review 2022 report, published by Netacea, which also suggested that bot attacks had jumped by 7-9% from the previous year (Source: Bot attacks in 2022 and how companies can protect themselves). Unfortunately, most organizations have little idea about the complexities of malicious bots and the capacity to which they can disrupt business.
While cybersecurity threats of various kinds such as ransomware and phishing have been making news in the business world for quite some time, bot attacks are equally or even more detrimental to business continuity than such attack tactics. To understand the capacity to which a bad bot attack can interrupt your business, it is imperative to learn more about bots and how they operate.
What Is a Bot?
A bot, also known as an internet robot, is a piece of software that automatically processes web requests. Designed to perform a task without any human assistance, bots can respond to requests with a variety of goals. Bots have been in use for websites to facilitate customer support via chat replies. They have also been utilized by platforms like Google to gather information about a website. Now, these do not pose any problem and have been known to significantly reduce the work of humans in carrying out multiple tasks. However, bots have also been exploited by bad actors with malicious intent in mind. Such bot threats end up impacting businesses in a plethora of ways.
What Is a Bot Attack?
A bot attack is the use of internet bots found in websites, applications, or APIs to access sensitive data, defraud or manipulate users, or disrupt a system. Bot attacks vary in complexity and severity, with attack campaigns ranging from relatively simple spamming operations to high-profile criminal launches that take down huge corporations, government agencies, and countries. What attracts hackers towards the use of bots is the automation element which enables them to scale their attacks to an extent that would not have been possible if done manually. This ability to duplicate attacks gives the cybercriminal the added advantage of launching breaches on a large scale, targeting thousands of systems and websites at a time.
How Is a Bot Attack Executed?
Bot attacks range from small operations by individual cybercriminals to sophisticated attacks orchestrated by large hacking organizations. These automated attacks may be carried out by different means.
Amateur cybercriminals build bots utilizing open-source developer tools. These tools, known as bot kits can be freely accessed online, especially on the dark web.
Botnets (also known as robot networks), in general, are referred to as a group of devices that are interconnected and work together to execute repetitive tasks. However, this group of interconnected devices could get infected by bot malware. In such a case, each of these individual devices is known as a “bot”. The cybercriminal, also called a “bot-herder”, then executes the attack by centrally controlling the botnet and dictating commands to it. Botnets can be used to orchestrate large-scale attacks involving millions of computers.
What Are the Different Types of Bot Attacks?
- Web Content Scraping
Web scraping bots scan content in websites disguised as search engine crawlers, which causes the website owner to be completely oblivious to the malicious bot attack. This allows them to automatically collect data from these sites without the permission of the website owner. The hacker then uses this content in multiple ways including republishing copied content, stealing SEO value by hijacking blogs, and stealing website content to create a fake duplicate site.
- Account Takeover (ATO)
Attackers collect personal data sold on the dark web, namely user credentials that get exposed via a data breach. This information is then processed using automated bots to carry out account takeover fraud by testing usernames and passwords on consumer sites. Once the credentials match, the attacker takes over the website account.
- Form Submission Abuse
- API Abuse
Automated bots infiltrate the data pipelines and extract sensitive data that may belong to authorized users from the API. This enables them to launch various types of attacks such as credit card enumeration and e-commerce gift card fraud.
Who Are the Targets of Bot Attacks?
Websites are popular targets of bot attacks. Attacks on websites may be carried out in the form of web content scraping, DDoS attacks, etc.
Online shopping platforms provide ample opportunities for cybercriminals to operate bots to their advantage. Bots are exploited during e-commerce attacks to carry out tactics such as stealing card numbers and taking over customer accounts.
Fintech has also been a target of bot attacks, in addition to online lenders and BNPL businesses. A few examples of how bot attacks are conducted in such cases include attempting automated loan applications and creating accounts with stolen credentials.
Bots have also been extensively used to attack individuals both in private as well as professional environments. Bots are used to obtain the personal information of targeted individuals which, in turn, helps hackers perform identity theft and create fake IDs.
How to Protect Your Website from Bot Attacks?
Bot attacks can be mitigated if you remain prudent and cautious while on a website.
- Recognize the indicators of a potential bot attack
Closely analyze all web requests to recognize any abnormal activity that may lead to an attack.
- Take action
A thorough analysis of each web request enables you to identify malicious activity. When such an incident occurs, it is crucial to take appropriate actions such as observing, alerting, and blocking such a request.
The Bot Management Review 2022 report also discovered that around 97% of organizations expressed concerns over a drop in customer satisfaction due to bot attacks (Source: The Bot Management Review 2022). This makes it critical for businesses to integrate the threat of bots in their cybersecurity management in order to successfully mitigate bot attacks of every scale. Bot management should be an integral part of every organization’s cybersecurity strategy, no matter how small or large their business is.