Bot Attacks: How to Safeguard Your Website from Bad Bots
If you want to understand how pervasive and harmful bot attacks can be, just ask Elon Musk. Elon Musk's $44 billion purchase of Twitter now known as X was nearly derailed as Musk demanded public proof that less than 5% of the former Twitter accounts are bots, as the company reported in a May 2 regulatory filing. Although this looks like a straightforward valuation argument, at the heart of the dispute is the reputational damage of advertisers and consumers alike who want to turn up at the town square and interact with humans, and not be derailed by potentially harmful bot attacks.
Advertisers demand eyeballs, and will demand significant rebates or simply won’t renew advertising deals for a platform with non quantifiable amounts of invalid bot traffic, calling the entire revenue model into question.
X also sells access to its firehose, which allows third-parties such as social listening companies to sell brand awareness and ranking data to its subscribers. For example, if Brand A is looking for data on how its competitors are perceived in the marketplace, it buys sentiment analysis derived from aggregating data from millions of posts. We know from Twitter's old regulatory filing that 5% of this data may be fake. However, it seems certain from Elon’s comments, that 5% is just the tip of the iceberg, which is highly concerning if you’re basing consumer strategy on single digit movements in your share of voice.
As of October 2023, Elon Musk hasn’t come closer to defeating the bots. X is riddled with fake accounts. He’s already tried rate-limiting (see this article for why rate limiting sucks) his legitimate users - and looks close to completing a radical verification overhaul that is bound to have a negative impact on user adoption. Restrictions on replies from verified accounts are the latest attempt to defeat the bots. However, making changes in the core user interaction is difficult to implement and manage, and requires extensive changes in the user flow.
Understanding Bot Attacks
What Are Bot Attacks?
Bot attacks, also known as web scraping or web crawling, are automated processes in which bots or robots visit websites and interact with them. While not all bots are malicious, some are programmed with harmful intentions. These malicious bots can cause significant harm to your website, your users, and your business.
The Impact of Bot Attacks
Bot attacks can have various negative consequences, including:
- Traffic Overload on Servers: Malicious bots can flood your website with traffic, causing your servers to slow down or crash. This can lead to a poor user experience and loss of potential customers.
- Data Theft: Bots can scrape sensitive information from your website, such as customer data, pricing details, or proprietary content. This stolen data can be used for fraudulent purposes or sold on the dark web.
- Content Duplication: Bots can clone your website's content and publish it elsewhere on the internet. This can negatively affect your search engine rankings and brand reputation.
- Fraudulent Activities: Some bots are designed to carry out fraudulent activities, such as click fraud, ad fraud, or account takeover attacks. These activities can result in financial losses and damage to your online reputation.
Common Types of Bot Attacks:
There are several common types of bot attacks, including:
1. Scraping Bots
Scraping bots are designed to extract data from websites, often for competitive intelligence or data analysis. However, in the wrong hands, they can be used to steal valuable information.
2. Credential Stuffing Account Takeover Bots: Credential stuffing bots attempt to gain access to user accounts by using stolen username and password combinations obtained from data breaches on other websites. They can lead to unauthorized access and account takeovers.
3. DDoS Bots DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) bots are used to launch large-scale attacks on websites, overwhelming servers with traffic and causing downtime.
4. Carding Attacks: bots are used to launch large-scale brute force attempts to verify credit card details online using payment gateways.
5. Scalping Bots: bots are used to purchase highly desirable items, such as tickets, merchandise, and other retail offerings for immediate resale at a guaranteed profit.
Traditional Way to protects Website from Bot Attacks
Implement Strong Security Measures
To help protect against bot attacks, website owners have tried the following techniques.
Web Application Firewall (WAF)
A WAF can help detect and block malicious bot traffic by analyzing incoming requests and identifying suspicious patterns. It acts as a shield between your website and potential threats. Although the WAF do very well with known bot attacks, as they can read the signature of the attacks and prevent them, they don’t do well with new attacks, or attacks that disguise their origin by using dometic IP addresses and proxies to hide the attack signature. Custom scripted bot attacks, targeted at just one particular domain also won’t be easily picked up as they won’t be seen across all domains.
Bots are now routinely passing CAPTCHA, and if the CAPTCHA can’t be passed using a machine, it’s passed to human CAPTCHA farms for completion manually via an API service. CAPTCHA will still stop the vast majority of dumb bots. It’s the smart bots that are custom built to hit your service that are the real menace. See this article on why CAPTCHA needs a rethink.
Regularly Monitor and Analyze Traffic
Traffic Analysis Tools
Use traffic analysis tools to monitor website traffic patterns. These tools can help you identify unusual spikes in traffic that may indicate a bot attack.
Analyze user behavior on your website to detect anomalies. Bots often exhibit predictable behavior, such as rapid navigation and repetitive actions.
Update and Patch Software
Regularly update your website's software and plugins to patch security vulnerabilities. Outdated software can be an easy target for bot attacks.
Implement rate limiting on your server to restrict the number of requests a single IP address can make within a specific time frame. Again, this is merely punishing your legitimate users and won’t actual stop the bot attacks, it will just make them slower, and cripple the service for everyone.
Use Bot Detection Services
Consider using third-party bot detection services that specialize in identifying and blocking malicious bots. VerifiedVisitors is built from the ground-up as an AI platform that uses Machine Learning to identify multi-variant signals from bot attacks at the edge of the network, before the bots have a chance to cause damage. Combining behavioural detection methods with log analysis and fingerprint data allows us to actually learn from your traffic and eliminate the bots using dynamic rules that change as the bot attacks change. Don't wait until a bot attack damages your online presence—take action now wth a free trial to fortify your defenses and keep your website safe.