Server Security and Bots: A comprehensive Guide
Sudden spikes in server traffic are the constant bane of many a DevOps team. Pro-active thresholds alerts, elastic compute and comprehensive network management tools makes the job an awful lot easier than it used to be. In fact, if the spike did not result in downtime, it's only too easy to ignore the underlying cause of the spike. Even in the best case, Elastic Load Balancers don’t fire up immediately, leading to data loss. In each case the DevOps team really does need to perform a full root cause investigation. The investigation inevitably means digging into the logs, looking at concurrency of possible trigger events, recreating the exact sequence of events that lead to the spike, and then finally isolating the root cause and fixing it. With hundreds or thousands of servers, and microservices architectures and APIs now ubiquitous, just the investigation alone becomes a challenge.
Many times, the root cause is often traced back to the impact of bots on server security. Bots, both good and bad, can have a serious influence on the safety and functionality of servers. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the various facets of how bots impact server security and provide insights into safeguarding your digital infrastructure.
Bots Impact on Server Security
Understanding the Role of Bots
Bots, short for robots, are automated software applications that perform tasks on the internet. While some bots, like search engine crawlers, play a vital role in indexing web content, others can be malicious, aiming to exploit vulnerabilities in servers. It is essential to comprehend the diverse roles bots play in the online ecosystem. For the full database of bots, please see our resources bot database here.
The Good Bots
- Search Engine Crawlers: Search engines like Google and Bing use bots to index websites and make them searchable. These bots help your site get discovered and ranked
- Monitoring and Analytics Bots:Tools like Google Analytics employ bots to collect and analyze website data, providing valuable insights for optimization.
- Content Aggregators:Bots from platforms like Reddit or news aggregators help distribute your content and drive traffic.
The Bad Bots
- Web Scrapers: Malicious bots often scrape content, leading to content theft, data breaches, and server overload.
- DDoS Bots: Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) bots flood servers with traffic, causing downtime and disrupting services.
- Brute Force Bots: These bots attempt to crack passwords and gain unauthorized access to servers.
The Impact on Server Security
The presence of malicious bots can have severe repercussions for server security. Some of the notable impacts include:
- Increased Vulnerabilities: Bots continuously scan websites for weaknesses, making it crucial to keep server software updated.
- Downtime and Loss of Revenue: DDoS attacks from bots can result in server downtime, leading to lost revenue and reputation damage.
- Data Breaches: Malicious bots can steal sensitive data, compromising user privacy and violating regulations.
- Resource Consumption: Bots can overload servers, causing slow performance and frustrating user experiences. The bots often repeatedly hit a particular API or service, causing performance degradation.
Traditional Strategies to Safeguard Your Server
Protecting your server from the impact of bots traditionally involves a mix of factors as summarised below.:
1. Implement Strong Authentication
Use complex passwords and multi-factor authentication to deter brute force bots from gaining access to your server.
2. Employ Web Application Firewalls (WAFs)
WAFs can filter out malicious bot traffic, protecting your server from DDoS attacks and web scraping.
3. Regular Software Updates
Keep your server software up to date to patch vulnerabilities that bots might exploit.
4. Monitor Traffic
Use analytics tools to monitor website traffic and detect abnormal patterns that may indicate bot activity.
5. Rate Limiting
Implement rate limiting to control the number of requests bots can make, preventing server overload.
Why the Traditional Methods don’t add Value
Although the basics of strong authentication, WAFs and keeping up-to-date with patches aren’t going away anytime soon, manually monitoring traffic using logs and other historical data and rate limiting do nothing to affect the underlying root cause of the server spikes. Often, it’s not the effect of the spike itself that causes the issue, it's the fact the devops team is forced to spend time on server maintenance, root cause analysis and re-configuring services.
Rate limiting does fix the server spike issue, but again doesn’t treat the underlying cause. It just makes performance poor for all visitors - even if legitimate?
How Does VerifiedVisitors work?
VerifiedVisitors has an edge of network security layer to prevent bad and unwanted bots from hitting your infrastructure in the first place. Our AI powered Bot detection platform does all the analysis and blocking of these bad bots, with full reporting and details of each bot mitigation. The ML actually learns from your own unique traffic patterns to provide a much more accurate and controlled environment for the servers by removing all the unwanted bot spikes. Now the bots are taken care of, its one less factor to worry about. If you are seeing a CPU or traffic spike, now the bots can be eliminated as a root cause, and instead we can focus on other likely candidates, such as internal traffic, memory leaks or badly structured search queries that need performance optimization.
Removing the bad bots automatically also levels the playing field for your legitimate clients. Although you may want to still retain rate upper limits on the server, removing the bots often increases performance for the legitimate users, and means you can truly scale the service in alignment with actual usage of the service.
New Strategies to Safeguard Your Servers
The new strategies can be summarized as follows:
1. Implement Zero Trust at the Edge of Network
VerifiedVisitors works across the hybrid cloud with integrations for CloudFront, Cloudflare, Google Cloud Platform as well as others on request. Applying our AI layer at the edge of the network removes the bots and authenticates the verified visitors you actually want. You can set this up across your entire network of servers.
2. Automatically Monitor Traffic
VerifiedVisitors does all the analysis and monitoring for you. Simply set up global policies for how you want to handle bot traffic, and VerifiedVisitors does the rest. You can set-up global policies, or set-up policies per service if you need to fine-tune.
3. Review the actual Verified Visitor traffic performance
Our real-time alerting and reporting shows the entire risk surface area so that you can eliminate and control all the bots and manage your verified visitor traffic. Instead of reviewing web logs, you can now just review the mitigated traffic and ensure there are no false positives in the data.
4. Server Performance and Thresholding
Now you have a painless and automated way of understand the true nature of your legitimate traffic, the devops team can work to optimize for the actual server thresholds, elastic compute variables and server commits to minimise spend and maximise performance.
5. Rate Limiting
Re-calibrate your rate limiting to act as a true server overload threshold for legitimate traffic, or size the service according to the new understanding of legitimate peak demand..
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Q: How can I differentiate between good and bad bots?
A: Good bots often identify themselves in their user agent strings. Malicious bots may not provide such identification, making it important to monitor their behavior.
Q: Are all bots harmful to server security?
A: No, not all bots are harmful. Search engine crawlers and analytics bots, for example, are essential for website visibility and performance.
Q: What is the role of machine learning in bot detection?
A: Machine learning algorithms can help identify bot behavior patterns, enabling more accurate detection and mitigation.
Q: How can I protect my server from DDoS attacks by bots?
A: Employing a robust Web Application Firewall (WAF) can help filter out malicious traffic and mitigate DDoS attacks.
Q: Is it necessary to continuously update server software?
A: Yes, regular software updates are crucial as they often include security patches that protect against bot exploits.
Q: Can bots impact server SEO?
A: Yes, excessive bot traffic can skew website analytics and affect SEO performance.
In the digital age, where data and online presence are invaluable, understanding how bots impact server security is essential. By recognizing the roles of both good and bad bots, implementing robust security measures, and staying vigilant, you can safeguard your server and ensure its optimal performance. Protecting your server from bots is not just a matter of security; it's a necessity for a thriving online presence.