Anybody can come under fire from bad bots and they are used for a number of things. In some cases, they can be used to attack businesses and websites, steal sensitive data, or copy online content without permission. Individuals can be attacked by bad bots too; attackers can use them to gain unauthorized access to computers and collect personal information. Bad bots can even influence events on a global scale by spreading misinformation on social media channels. A problem that was recently highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic.
When people think of bot mitigation, they tend to think about bots being the problem they need to stop. When in reality bots are nothing more than a tool. In order to properly stop automated threats you need to understand and target the humans behind the bots.
Bots are extremely versatile, cost effective, efficient, and easy to use making them the tool of choice for any cybercriminal looking to launch their attacks at scale. Because of this bots are favored by a number of different criminal and morally questionable groups. These are some of the most common groups that leverage malicious automation.
Scammers are nothing new, but their reach and effectiveness have greatly increased thanks to bots. Scammers can now use automation to create fake accounts and send realistic sounding messages to unsuspecting people.
These scammers trick victims into sending them money, giving out personal information, or clicking malicious links. As spam filters in email providers and recognition of robocallers on phones improve, some scammers have shifted the focus to dating apps and social media. Scammers don’t even need to chat with potential victims once they have them on the hook. Bots do all the work, creating accounts, adding a profile picture, connecting with real users, and sending realistic sound messaging. All the scammer has to do is set up the automation and sit back.
Scammers can also use bots to trick consumers. Using Scraping bots scammers can set up counterfeit sites. Tricking customers into thinking they are on a brand’s legitimate site. From there, scammers can sell counterfeit goods, accept returns of the real brand’s products, or steal payment and personal information when a customer checks out.
Fraudsters are another group that use bad bots to carry out their crimes and there are a lot of different ways they can do this. Their primary goal is to gain unauthorized access to user’s accounts, in order to make fraudulent purchases, steal payment and personal information, and steal saved loyalty points.
Credential stuffing bots are the primary method attackers use to conduct account takeover attacks. ATO is a numbers game, attackers will use a list of stolen usernames and passwords in order to break into other accounts that those users own. Testing thousands of credentials, across hundreds of sites only to have a few actually work makes automation not only helpful but necessary to make these attacks profitable. Bots are used to test stolen credentials and find the ones that have been reused granting access to the account.Bots can also be used to try to break their way into accounts through brute force attacks. These attacks involve bots guessing common passwords in rapid succession to try to guess the right password. These attacks are even less successful than credential stuffing and have seen a bit of a decline as stolen credentials are readily available for purchase in underground marketplaces.
Vulnerability scanning bots are designed to scan websites and applications to find any weaknesses in security software. Again, automation is beneficial as it allows for the scanning of hundreds/thousands of known vulnerabilities towards a particular website. This information will then be reported back to the hackers so they have a list of easy targets. Vulnerability scanners pose a serious threat during zero-day vulnerability events. During recent events like Spring4Shell and Log4j vulnerability scanners allowed attackers to quickly identify affected sites and launch attacks before patches could be made.
Malicious bots are not just used by hackers that want to steal personal information. They can also be used to interrupt business operations with DDoS attacks and then extort money from companies. A DDoS (distributed denial of service) attack is when a website is overloaded with traffic from bad bots posing as real users, so it crashes. The hackers will then contact the company and demand a ransom before stopping the attack. Other times, hackers can then try other exploits while the business is distracted and their guard is down during a DDoS attack.
Sneaker bots or scalpers bots are one of the most common uses of automation and even worse they are for the most part legal. These bots target in demand items that have a limited supply. They get the name sneaker bot because the foundational technology was created by sneaker resellers. These resellers would use bots to gain an unfair advantage over real users during limited edition sneaker drops. Allowing them to secure sneakers before the limited stock was sold out. They would then resell the sneakers at massive markups to the original customers their bots beat out.
These bots have now been repurposed to quickly buy up any item that is in high demand from the hottest holiday gift to the latest concert ticket.
Resellers don’t just stop at in demand items. Web scraping bots are now being used to find incorrectly priced items. These Freebie bots constantly scan retail sites to find items that are incorrectly marked as either free or well below their actual price (typically because of human error), even if this mistake is fixed within minutes it is too late. Freebie bots find these errors and complete the checkout process in seconds, forcing businesses to sell the products at a massive loss. Resellers will then sell the items at their original price or at a slight discount on 3rd party sites and make a huge profit.
Bots can also be used to add items to a basket on an e-commerce site, causing real users to get an ‘out of stock’ message when they attempt to order the product. Again, hackers will use this as a way to demand a ransom from businesses. It is crucial that businesses have a bot management system in place to avoid these kinds of bot attacks.
While a morally corrupt business practice, other legitimate organizations can use bots to get a leg up.
Competitors can use web scraping bots to quickly identify pricing information in order to undercut the targeted organization. They can even use bots to conduct denial of inventory attacks. In this scenario bots will add all available inventory for a product to a cart but never checkout. Making it seem like a product is sold to real customers, forcing them to go elsewhere to make their purchase.
In some instances, companies will engage in a malicious attempt called click fraud. This is when bad bot traffic is used to repeatedly click on a link, usually a paid ad. Companies use click fraud to target their competitor’s ads and drive up their advertising costs. The hope is that this ad fraud will cause problems for rival companies and discourage them from using marketing methods like pay-per-click ads.
Website owners may also use click fraud to increase their own advertising revenue. If they display ads on their site and they get paid every time someone clicks on them, it works in their favor if they’re getting a lot of clicks. So, they will use bad bots to inflate the number of clicks they get and earn a lot of money.
Website owners that want new content but don’t want to put the time and effort into creating it may use automated bots instead. Web scraping bots are designed to crawl sites and copy content. Allowing site owners to quickly copy content and post it on their site without the consent of the original author.
Bad actors can leverage bots to sway the general opinion of a politician or a political party. Bots can quickly and efficiently create a massive number of accounts on social media. Once the accounts are created political actors will create messages that will either support their cause or tarnish their opponents. Bots then spread this misinformation across all of the accounts they set up fooling real people into believing it since the sentiment appears to be supported by a large number of accounts.
Identifying and Mitigating the Impact of Malicious Bots
In the current digital era, the internet serves as a massive infrastructure for various businesses, services, and individual users. However, alongside genuine traffic, bad bots are the lurking concern. These automated scripts can hoard your inventory, scrape your content, slow down your website, and commit fraud at scale. Understanding the intricate nature of these bots and implementing proactive measures to detect and stop them is crucial to protect your customers and maintain a secure online presence.
The Anatomy of a Bot
Before diving deep into the identification of harmful bots, it’s important to understand their basic anatomy.
Good Bots: Examples include search engine spiders like Googlebot, which help in indexing the web. These bots respect the robots.txt file and only access permitted areas.
Bad Bots: These are programmed to perform malicious tasks. They are a favored tool by attackers because they are easy to use, cheap, and highly efficient.
Understanding Bot Behavior
Bot behavior is predominantly driven by their objective. While good bots are focused on indexing and understanding web content, bad bots may:
- Scrape Content: To steal and duplicate content.
- Takeover Accounts: Use credential stuffing or brute force attacks to break into accounts.
- Hoard Inventory: Buy out limited supply to resell for a profit, or add all available stock to a cart so real users can’t purchase the item.
- Conduct scams: Tricking people into sending scammer money or sharing personal information.
- Scan for Vulnerabilities: Scan for known vulnerabilities in a site’s security.
- Monitor sites: Find mispriced items and purchase them before the error is corrected.
- Execute DDoS Attacks: Overloading servers to bring websites down.
The Cost Of Bad Bots
Using bad bots is not a victimless crime and a lot of people are directly affected by it. Bots impact businesses’ bottom line through site down time, inventory manipulation, chargebacks from carding attacks. Bots can also negatively impact customer loyalty and brand reputation. Customers having their accounts breached can be a fraustring and costly event, leaving users upset with the company. In addition to breached accounts, customers who are unable to purchase a highly sought after product and then forced to pay higher prices to the resellers that beat them with bots in the first place tend to spend their money elsewhere in the future. Bots even affect marketing budgets, through click fraud and promotional abuse. Unless businesses have a modern bot mitigation system in place, bots can cause some serious financial trouble.
It’s important to recognize that there are a lot of people creating and using bad bots online to carry out bot attacks. Most of the time, they fly under the radar and you don’t even realize that you are coming into contact with them. But bot detection software can help protect you against these dangers and keep you safe online.
Bots aren’t the Problem, People Are
At the end of the day, it’s the people on the other side of the keyboard that are investing time developing stealthy bots and launching automated threats and malicious traffic disguised as legitimate traffic upon businesses. Detecting bad bots is one thing – successfully mitigating them so they don’t return is another. An effective and long lasting bot mitigation solution should not only focus on detecting automation, it is also critical for solution providers to understand and undermine the financial motivation behind automated attacks. To do this, bot detection software should have an effective means to stop adversaries from creating bypasses to their solutions. Using highly obfuscated codes to make reverse engineering detection difficult, time consuming, and expensive. While also constantly changing detection logic, making learning for reverse engineering attempts useless during future attacks. By using a solution that ruins the profitability of attacks you can force adversaries to move on to an easier target.
Kasada architecture has been designed with the adversary in-mind. It is designed to frustrate, deceive and strike back to address the underlying motivations behind a bot attack – in addition to detecting modern bots using a client interrogation process able to detect the immutable evidence of automation whenever bots interact with websites, mobile apps and APIs. If you want to see how Kasada can help you stop the people behind the bots, get in touch with us today.