Combatting Bad Bots: Best Practices for Business Security
The prevalence of automated attacks is increasing, largely due to the use of bad bots that can easily evade detection. These bots imitate human behavior and abuse business logic, enabling threat operators and fraudsters to carry out a wide range of malicious activities that can result in online fraud and other forms of damage.
Imperva released its 10th annual Bad Bot Report, a global analysis of automated bot traffic across the internet which stated that in 2022, 47.4% of all internet traffic came from bots, a 5.1% increase over the previous year. The same report showed that human traffic, at 52.6%, decreased to its lowest level in eight years.
Some of the other highlights of the report are:
- In 2022, the proportion of bad bots classified as “advanced” accounted for 51.2% of all bad bot traffic. In comparison, the level of bad bot sophistication in 2021 was 25.9%.
- Account takeover (ATO) attacks increased 155% in 2022 and 15% of all login attempts in the past 12 months — across all industries — were classified as account takeover.
- In 2022, 17% of all attacks on APIs came from bad bots abusing business logic. In addition, 35% of account takeover attacks in 2022 specifically targeted an API.
- Travel (24.7%), retail (21%), and financial services (12.7%) experienced the highest volume of bot attacks. Gaming (58.7%) and telecommunications (47.7%) had the highest proportion of bad bot traffic on their websites and applications.
- Of the 13 countries analyzed in the report, seven had bad bot traffic levels that exceeded the global average of 30.2%. Germany (68.6%), Ireland (45.1%), and Singapore (43.1%) ranked in the top three, while the U.S. also exceeded the average at 32.1%.
- One-in-five bad bots used Mobile Safari as their browser of choice in 2022, up from 16.1% in 2021.
Numerous cybersecurity threats today are enabled by malicious bots, conducting brute force attacks, content scraping, denial of service, spam, fraud, and malware injection, among others. These bot attacks can result in long-term damage to your reputation and financial performance. The most advanced bad bots are skilled at mimicking human behaviors and technologies, making it challenging to differentiate them from legitimate users. They can replicate non-linear mouse movements, seemingly random workflows, and other human-like behaviors across web applications. In addition, they can launch attacks from hundreds, if not thousands, of different IP addresses.
Although preventing bot attacks may seem like a clear solution to safeguard your online applications and mitigate cybersecurity risks, it is much easier said than done.
In this article, you will read about
What is a Bot?
Good vs. Bad Bots
Why are bots an increasing threat?
How are bots getting smarter?
How can businesses defend against bots?
How can Rainbow Secure help?
What is a Bot?
Bots are software applications that are designed to perform specific tasks automatically. They run on their own, without the need for human intervention.
By mimicking human behavior, bots can replace the need for human involvement. Typically, they are programmed to handle repetitive tasks, which they can complete much faster than humans.
Good vs. Bad bots
Good bots, also known as web crawlers or spiders, are used by search engines to index and categorize web pages. They are mainly used to improve the quality and relevance of search results. Web crawlers can also be used by businesses to monitor their competitors and analyze their website performance. Additionally, good bots can provide personalized customer experiences, such as product recommendations and tailored content. Some examples of good bots include:
- search engine optimization bots that crawl the web to find ways to improve results
- social network bots that create better recommendations, defend against spam and build a safer online community
- marketing bots that crawl websites for backlinks, organic and paid keywords, and traffic profiles
- site monitoring bots that monitor websites to detect the quality of performance
Good bots are programmed to obey certain rules and protocols to ensure they don’t consume too much bandwidth or disrupt web server performance. Also, good bots can be used to detect and prevent malicious activities, such as spam and fraud. And they can also be used to detect and block bad bots.
On the other hand, bad bots can be used to scrape data, launch attacks, and even commit fraud. Bots are increasing in number and make up close to half of all web traffic. Unfortunately, the activity rate of malicious bots is higher than that of beneficial ones, and they are becoming increasingly intelligent. These malicious bots can be employed by bad actors to scrape information from websites and steal content and images, costing businesses both time and money. Some specific attacks often launched by bad bots include:
Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks are a type of cyberattack that floods a server with requests until it becomes overloaded and crashes. This strategy can be utilized to disrupt services and prevent genuine users from accessing websites. In addition, fraudsters can use malicious bots to carry out their schemes. Botnets, which are networks of infected computers, can be utilized to commit fraud by creating fake accounts, placing orders, and perpetrating click fraud. These botnet attacks can be expensive for companies to address, as they are often challenging to identify and can lead to significant financial losses.
Account Takeover (ATO) attacks happen when malicious bots seize control of user accounts to gain access to sensitive personal data, linked bank accounts, and credit cards. These attacks are executed using either credential stuffing or credential cracking techniques. Hackers acquire information from data breaches and input or use brute force to figure out usernames and passwords. Upon gaining access, they can steal someone’s identity or use their credit cards for fraudulent activities.
Web scraping, also known as content scraping, is the process of quickly extracting data and information from a website. While web scraping is not illegal, certain bots like ticket scalping bots can cause issues. There are several potential issues associated with web scraping, including:
- Potential price undercutting by competitors who scrape pricing information
- Extraction of hidden or sensitive data and information
- Burdening the network and slowing down website performance
- Possible replication of scraped content on another website, leading to duplicate content issues
Businesses in price-sensitive sectors like ticketing or hotel booking face significant threats from web scraping. Competitors may use bots to scrape pricing information and undercut their rivals, leading to the competitor gaining the top spot-on price comparison websites.
Click fraud, also known as ad fraud, is a major issue that costs advertisers billions of dollars annually. Fake page views, clicks, and impressions generated by malicious bots are to blame for this. The consequences of click fraud go far beyond financial losses, as it can severely damage a company’s reputation with advertisers, making it difficult for publishers to maintain good relationships. It is crucial to protect websites from these advanced bots as they can cause irreparable harm to a business’s reputation and profitability.
A brute force attack is an attempt to ‘guess’ the credentials of an account or system by trying huge numbers of possible combinations. Since bots can input username/password pairings at a much faster rate than humans, brute force attacks can theoretically always be successful given an infinite amount of tries and unlimited time. Another form of brute force attack is credential stuffing, where bots use stolen credentials purchased on the dark web to gain access to other accounts. For example, if a hacker has a list of credentials from a data breach on Google, they may attempt to use these credentials on Facebook. Since people often use the same email and password across multiple websites, credential stuffing success rates can be high. Watch out for the following signs of a brute force attack on your website:
- Suspicious increase in failed login attempts
- Spike in login attempts and customer account lockouts
- Increase in chargeback claims (on e-commerce sites)
Why are bots an increasing threat?
Bots have existed on the internet since its inception. Still, they weren’t always the major threat they were today. Bots are becoming an increasing threat for several reasons: technological advances, malicious users, and sheer volume.
1. They are becoming more sophisticated
With the advancement of technology, bots are becoming more intricate and harder to identify. Some bots use artificial intelligence to mimic human behavior, making it challenging for businesses to distinguish between real and fake traffic. This results in false positives and a waste of valuable resources. Intelligent bots can even react to detection and mitigation attempts. For example, an Artificial Intelligence (AI) DDoS bot can detect when it has been blocked and immediately change its tactics.
2. They are being used for more malicious purposes
Bots are being exploited more frequently for malicious purposes like DDoS attacks, account hijacking, click fraud, and spamming. They can be programmed with ease to carry out these tasks on a massive scale. Earlier, it was difficult for bots to perform complicated tasks since they lacked sophistication.
3. The number of bot-infected computers is increasing
The quantity of computers contaminated with bots is rising due to the increased downloading and usage of infected software, often unknowingly. Bots can be concealed within legitimate software, making it challenging to detect their presence. Unfortunately, the widespread use of IoT devices has only added to the problem. Today, a “computer” can refer to anything from a smartphone to a smart television, which has compounded the issue even further.
How are bots getting smarter?
Bot attacks were once limited to spamming and web scraping. However, with technological advancements, attackers have become more sophisticated and now engage in more complicated and malicious activities, such as credit card fraud and API abuse. Fortunately, bot management solutions can identify unusual increases in traffic related to bot activity, making it easier to detect and prevent such traffic. Security platforms can quickly take action against any malicious bot-related activity by recognizing the abnormal spikes in traffic during low human activity periods, such as holidays and weekends.
In the past, bot attacks were straightforward, relying on the same attack signatures. Now, bots have become more sophisticated, making them harder to detect. With more complex attack signatures, bots are mimicking legitimate human traffic patterns. The automated attack signatures have become three times more intricate, making them more challenging to identify and mitigate. Stay ahead of the game by investing in advanced bot management solutions.
How can businesses defend against bots?
Bad bots can be a significant threat to businesses. Fortunately, there are several effective ways to protect against them, such as using a web application firewall (WAF) to filter incoming traffic and block malicious requests. Here are some additional best practices to consider:
- Configure your WAF to block all known bad bots and monitor for unusual activities
- Use multi-factor authentication (MFA) to prevent unauthorized access to your accounts
- Implement a secure password policy or use Rainbow Secure Multi-factor Password authentication
- Regularly scan your network for vulnerabilities and promptly patch any detected issues
By following these proactive measures, businesses can safeguard themselves from bad bots and other malicious attacks. They can also use the follow these precautions:
Block known hosting providers and proxy services
Even if the most advanced attackers move to other, more difficult-to-block networks, many less sophisticated perpetrators use easily accessible hosting and proxy services. Disallowing access from these sources might discourage attackers from coming after your site, API, and mobile apps.
Monitor your traffic
Monitor your site traffic at least for the following important metrics:
- Traffic spikes: if you see any spikes in traffic for a relatively short time frame (i.e., under a week), it can be a sign of bot activities. There are a few exceptions to this, but they should be obvious, for example when there’s a new product launch on your site then traffic spikes can be expected.
- Suspicious sources: bot traffic commonly comes from direct traffic (i.e., not from Google search or people clicking your ads) with new user agents and sessions. Repeated requests from a single IP address are a clear sign.
- Bounce rate: a spike in bounce rate can be a major sign of bot traffic that is only looking to perform a single task repeatedly before leaving your site.
- Overall site performance: when there’s a significant slowdown on your site, it might be a sign that your servers are stressed out due to abnormal bot traffic.
Block data center IPs
While advanced attackers have moved on to sophisticated networks and servers, many less-sophisticated cybercriminals still rely on hosting and proxy servers that have been commonly used in previous attacks. Fortunately, you can easily block these attacks by purchasing a list of known data center IPs and blocking requests coming from those IPs. Although this is not as efficient and carries a higher risk of blocking real users, it is a quick fix worth trying. It is important to note that this is not a substitute for a comprehensive bot management solution.
Bottleneck Every Vulnerability
Protect exposed APIs and mobile apps, and if possible, share blocking information amongst systems. Protecting your website is useless if backdoors are still accessible. These are vulnerabilities that bots can exploit to gain backdoor access, thereby causing great harm to your systems.
Have the right infrastructure to prevent bot-driven attacks.
Malicious bots have two different roles in online fraud attempts:
- Vulnerability Scanning: Cybercriminals utilize malicious bots to scan your system for potential vulnerabilities (e.g. unpatched software). When vulnerabilities are identified, the attacker can launch follow-up attacks and fraud attempts. Learn more about how to prevent vulnerability scanning with our guide.
- Performing Automated Attacks: Common automated attacks include brute force and credential stuffing attacks, as well as other forms of account takeover (ATO) attacks. Attackers can use bots to gain access to legitimate user accounts and use the accounts to perform fraud.
How can Rainbow Secure help?
Right amount of data and system access to right person or role at right time is the key to organizations being able to use digital tools and platforms to serve the customer base and stay compliant.
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