Among the many cybersecurity concerns and threats that companies deal with daily, bots perhaps don’t really rank as high-priority risks. Perceptions about bots often see them regarded as nuisances that skew web analytics results rather than causing security risks.
But there are both harmless and harmful bots, and the malicious ones represent a surprisingly high percentage of online traffic. This article describes some of the security threats bots pose and recommendations to shore up your defenses against their impacts.
The most recent in-depth report into bot activity found that bots account for 47 percent of all internet traffic. These bots are essentially automated programs or scripts that run different tasks and execute commands.
A lot of bot activity is benign. When a search engine like Google indexes and ranks your website’s content, a bot automatically crawls the site at regular intervals to find new pages. Most other harmless bots that visit a site fall into this category – search engine “spiders” that crawl and rank pages.
However, a substantial chunk of internet traffic comes from malicious online bots. Estimates put the figure at around 38% of bot activity being malevolent. If your company hypothetically receives 5,000 website visitors per day, approximately 900 of them will be malicious bots. Which leads to the next question—what are these bots actually doing?
Malicious online bots differ in sophistication. Simple bots tend to connect from a single IP address while more advanced bots use various techniques to evade detection. Evasive techniques in more advanced bots include emulating human online behavior via mouse movements and using anonymous proxies.
Web scraping is a type of malicious bot activity that doesn’t directly lead to serious security incidents like data loss, but it does cause potential financial losses. Web scrapers are bots that harvest data from a website, often for malicious uses. Two common impacts of web scraping are:
With billions of stolen credentials circulating on the dark web, threat actors have many username-password pairs to work within their attempts to break into user accounts. Automated bots speed up account takeover attacks, allowing them to use credentials en masse until one pair works and enables them to log in to a victim’s account.
Bots are also commonly deployed in brute force account takeover attacks, where hackers try to exploit the use of weak passwords to hijack an account. Lists of millions of the most common passwords get used until one works.
Denial of Service
Website or web app downtime is something that many companies understandably want to avoid. If your reputation depends on a customer-facing app being always available or if your revenue depends on an always-online site, you have a particular distaste for downtime.
Unfortunately, many hackers enjoy taking sites down just for the sake of it. Known as denial of service, these attacks use bots to disrupt the operation of a site or app by flooding its servers with traffic. The most severe form of this attack is distributed denial of service (DDoS), which uses a veritable army of bots distributed in various locations to overwhelm a target.
Recent tweaks in ransomware tactics see some threat groups combining ransomware with a DDoS attack. The idea is that sectors or companies that are particularly intolerant of downtime (i.e., healthcare and manufacturing) ’ll be more likely to cave into ransom demands if their business-critical operations/systems are interrupted.
APIs drive much of the interconnectivity found in modern online ecosystems. Different apps use APIs to communicate and open up extra functionality for users. But API security still lags behind the pace of this increased connectivity.
Fully aware of this, hackers often use bots to exploit logic flaws in APIs. And since these APIs are easily accessible via the internet, they are ripe targets for attack. A successful attack may enable hackers to masquerade as legitimate users, perform fraudulent transactions, or steal sensitive data.
Nuspire’s optimized gateway management further shores up your defensive measures against malicious bot attacks. Our team of security experts boosts your network and perimeter security while minimizing business interruptions. The service includes firewall optimization, firewall policy reviews and 24x7x365 SOC support.