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Why Is Bot Protection Essentia...


Why Is Bot Protection Essential for Account Security?

Bot Protection
The Silicon Review
08 November, 2023

Humans aren’t the only visitors accessing your website. Bots now make up almost half of all online traffic, and understanding what they are - and how they benefit or threaten your organization - is vital. To establish some groundwork, bot traffic encompasses all traffic to a website or application that originates from non-human sources. The fundamentals of how Google indexes and prioritizes searches is all thanks to bots called spiders, which crawl through your webpages and associated links.

However, not all bots are built equal - other automated surfers are more malicious. A site is one of the most public-facing assets for any group. While a boon for genuine customers, this global connectivity is also a potential weakness that criminals are eager to exploit. Malicious bots automate this process, allowing for widespread credential stuffing, data scraping, and DDoS attempts. Even seemingly less harmful "bad" bots, such as unauthorized web crawlers, can create disruption by interfering with site analytics and generating click fraud.

Keeping analytics clean and customers safe is why bot protection remains one of the most important features of web security.

How Malicious Bots Harm You

The sheer scalability of bot campaigns make them an ideal tool for established criminal organizations. In one recent report, the Hacker News noted the surreptitious nature of bot attacks. Aiming to exploit the weaknesses in digital systems, online domains where vulnerable individuals interact are some of the most at-risk. Some of the worst attacks aim to facilitate child and elder exploitation. In the context of human trafficking, these bots function as silent intermediaries, connecting traffickers with potential victims in the obscure recesses of the internet.

Even the lower-stakes campaigns can result in severe financial losses. The pilfering of personal information allows attackers to pull off advanced identity theft, while extortion and ransomware leaves victims in a state of despair.

DDoS Attacks

A common way to pull off a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack is by flooding a target with a deluge of bot traffic. In DDoS attack scenarios, the sheer volume of attack traffic directed at a website overwhelms the origin server, leading to site-wide slowdowns or complete unavailability for legitimate users.

Click Fraud

Websites that display advertisements are often vulnerable to click fraud: this occurs when bots visit the site and click on different page elements, generating fake ad clicks. While this may initially appear to increase ad revenue, online advertising networks have sophisticated mechanisms for identifying bot-generated clicks. If these networks suspect a website of engaging in click fraud, they typically respond by taking action, often by banning the site and its owner from their network. Website owners who host ads must remain vigilant and cautious about the threat of bot click fraud.

Comment and Credential Stuffing

Website owners don’t only need to worry about their own financial interests being leveraged against them: the site itself can become an opportunity for attackers to hijack its users. One of the more basic automated bot attacks is a comment spammer that aims to redirect visitors to their own malicious websites. 

Alongside this - if a website in question supports account creation - it becomes an opportunity for attackers to test lists of potential usernames and passwords. If successful, the individual whose account they’re able to break into can begin to suffer severe ramifications. Should their username or password overlap with any other online account, their card details, address and other sensitive information are left wide open to theft.

Even an inexperienced cybercriminal can gain access to an individual's Facebook account by utilizing stored cookies and digital fingerprints, allowing them to bypass multi-factor authentication. This is now a multi-million-dollar market, evidenced by the continual sale of digital identities online. Ultimately, bots allow malicious actors to take advantage of  the trust between a site visitor and website owner.

Anti-Bot Security is No Longer Optional

During the third quarter of 2023, Cloudflare encountered one of the most sophisticated and enduring DDoS attack campaigns ever documented. One driving force behind this was the recent unveiling of HTTP/2: a version of the HTTP protocol that’s meant to improve application performance. However, HTTP/2 is uniquely architectured in a way that can improve a botnet’s performance. Dubbed the rapid reset vulnerability, botnets that harness the power of cloud computing platforms and exploit HTTP/2 can achieve an increase of up to 5,000 times the force per botnet node. As a result, they can carry out hyper-volumetric DDoS attacks even with relatively small botnets.

Traditional bot protection is no longer fit for purpose. Detection methods such as fingerprinting - where an IP address is flagged as suspicious - are a rudimentary way of blocking a single bot, but this is easily side-stepped with the use of fabricated data. Bot operators can even go to the extent of purchasing harvested digital fingerprints to employ in their attacks. By emulating genuine human behavior, they deceive these solutions into believing they’re authentic users.

Instead, the bot protection keeping your site visitors safe needs to utilize a range of techniques. Recognizing usage abnormalities is a major part of this, as unusual user behavior such as rapid navigation or rapid form completion can indicate bot activity. Suspicious URL requests, like attempts to access unsecured login or admin pages through random path exploration, are further evidence. The uncanny behavior seen across botnets allows advanced machine learning models to become a significant tool in your artillery. Able to detect likely bots by analyzing patterns and behaviors observed in known bot traffic, effective bot detection no longer forces you to lose sleep over fake site visitors.