Robot Networks or rather Botnets are exclusively designed for financial profit purposes, whereas many botnet attacks are mainly politically stimulated. It is a trend for attackers to rent botnets or rake-off attacks rather than developing their own. This is because botnets require a great deal of specialization and time to complete the high volume workload for their production and maintenance.
What Is a Botnet?
A botnet is a large network of Internet-connected devices that may include computers, routers, mobile phones, or even CCTV cameras, being operated by a single botmaster. The botmaster performs various tasks that often include malicious attacks if the botmaster turns out to be a cybercriminal. The botmaster performs illegal tasks himself or rents his botnet to others and often charges them by the hour.
Botnets are typically used for spamming, serving illegal material, click fraud, search engine optimization (SEO), and often for Bitcoin mining.
Mostly the victims of botnets attacks are unaware of their system breaching. This is because the targets of botnet attacks are mostly those devices that are no longer in use and have not been maintained either. Such machines are termed as “zombie computers” that remain unused but stay powered on and connected to the Internet.
Although the term botnet is associated strongly with illegal business, but there do exist legal botnets as well in the form of distributed computing. For example, Folding@Home stimulates protein folding, hoping to find cures for diseases like Alzheimer and different forms of cancer.
However, we will focus here primarily on illegal uses of botnets as they are becoming quite notable.
Brief History of Botnets
The first occurrence of botnets was observed in the early 2000 and so it grew alongside the early Internet.
Earlier, botnets were run as centralized networks having a single controller and thus were more prone to breaching. The invaded controller once shutdown could stop the entire network functioning. As a result, the botnet was tried to be controlled by multiple controllers but the attempt failed.
However, nowadays botnets are systemized as peer-to-peer (P2P) networks where commands are circulated between participants. The operators use cryptographic signatures to identify themselves, allowing them to pass commands to any single participant of the botnet. This act by the controllers also improved the security of the botnet.
Conflicker, one of the most powerful botnets of its time, infected over 10 million computers and had the capacity to send over 10 billion spam messages every day.
An effective botnet is the one that only has a few hundred servers because enormous botnets are easily cited.
What are Botnets Used For?
A botnet can be created for a variety of purposes. The following is a list of a few popular purposes a botnet is used to accomplish.
Distributed Denial-of-Service Attacks
In a Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attack the botmaster assigns the computers at a task of flooding a targeted website with requests to make it unavailable to other users or to completely crash their servers.
By doing so, the botmaster blackmails the website owners and generate income. The downtime hours can result in a huge loss for large e-commerce websites, especially during their peak times when the servers are already approaching full capacity. But a poorly guarded operator might have to pay the ransom.
Politically stimulated DDoS attacks are common as well where a criminal group operating a botnet rents out their botnet to those who wish to attack their opponents.
A constantly growing botnet can send spam messages from different IP addresses and domains without even paying the cost to acquire them or risk giving up their identity. But if you send out millions of spam messages daily you can easily get blocked by considerable email providers.
Spam botnets can thus be used for one’s own criminal business like selling illegal products online. Such a criminal minded botmaster can also rent out this capability to other organizations such as an advertisement network.
Advertisement networks can monetize online traffic. When a visitor sees an advertisement, posted by an advertiser on your popular website, the advertiser is bound to pay you money. And if the advertisement is clicked on, this will mean gain of even more money.
What a botmaster do is that he creates a website and exploits the system; as a result, he sends artificial traffic to it through their botnet. If the traffic is being driven from residential IPs as the botnet targets home routers especially so this will turn out to highly profitable. The money gained by such scam comes from a lawful source and therefore requires no laundering.
Search Engine Optimization
It works in the same manner as that of click fraud. The only difference lies in its monetization strategy. Search engine optimization is done by a botnet that artificially drives traffic to a client’s website via the search engines. The botmaster gives the search engines the impression that a specific site is a perfect choice for a particular topic. As a result, the search engine drives real users to the site.
Store and Serve Illegal Material
If you do not have to pay for the server and bandwidth cost then selling unlicensed digital products online will become highly lucrative for you. This was a trend especially in the days of early Internet when these costs were comparably high. The botnets feed freely on the electricity, bandwidth, and hard drive storage of the infected computers.
The rewarding anonymity makes this far more enticing although making interaction with an infected server is itself dangerous. Thus precautions must be taken by the customers of the unlicensed material.
The infected computer’s resources are often used to mine bitcoins by the botmaster. The stolen computing power and electricity is used essentially by the botnets to create money for the botmaster simply by gathering Bitcoins, which can be sold for cash.
However, with the sophistication of the Bitcoin network, the use of botnet has become finite, as the small dividends do not justify the detection risk by the user due to heavy electricity bills.
How Can You Identify Yourself as a Part of a Botnet?
Identifying yourself as a part of a botnet is not easy. But an alarm of suspicion can be raised if you detect the following troubles resulting from being a part of it:
- If unknown programs are consuming a large amount of processing power on your device.
- If you are utilizing bandwidth even with all the programs that are connected to the Internet are closed.
- If you are frequently being presented with captchas when visiting sites.
- If you are blocked entirely from some sites, this might be an indication that your IP is on a blocklist for carrying out spam attacks or DDoS.
- If installing updates on your device or Antivirus fails so this is a major indication that you have an infected computer.
How to Protect Yourself against a Botnet Infection?
By increasing your device’s security and being assiduous online can protect you a great deal against malware. To protect yourself against botnet infection, you may;
- Keep all software up-to-date. Extra security patches that come with software updates can help boost your computer security.
- Haphazard clicking must be avoided at all cost; especially clicking on suspicious website links or opening skeptical email attachments should be avoided.
- Installing an anti-malware software package can be beneficial for your computer.
How Does a Botnet Connect to a Device?
A botnet can overtake any device connected to the Internet even if the device is unwilling to do so. This usually occurs if the device is compromised because it can easily be infected with many different malware and even be a part of multiple different botnets.
Botnets often constantly scan public IP addresses barring no one and test renowned vulnerabilities against the computer that they have discovered to search for new targets. Botnets proliferate via email attachments or are packed with pirated software or they attack through web browser vulnerabilities.
Botnets find routers their attractive targets as they are always online but scarcely receive any updates. However, maintained and updated devices are less likely to be targeted. As no. of our devices getting connected to the Internet increases, the chances of breaching also increases proportionally.
Protecting your device against malware is crucial in this era of compromised security and privacy. As botnets continue to invade the global village, so being watchful for the attempts of a botnet and the steps that can be taken against its attack are necessary to be aware of in order to minimize the chances of infection.