Botnets: The silent cyber threat

Botnets are not limited by national borders and spread across the globe. Read more about the dangerous network here.

10-08-2023 - 5 minute read. Posted in: hacking.

Botnets: The silent cyber threat

Cyberthreats are inevitable in the ever-changing digital world, growing in number and technology. The botnet is one of the most infamous and harmful weapons in the arsenal of online criminals.

A network of compromised computers and other devices that are under the command and control (C&C) of a centralized infrastructure is known as a botnet. This article explores the subtleties of botnets, their mode of operation, potential repercussions, and measures you can implement to fight them.

Anatomy of a botnet

Botnet is a contraction of the words robot and network and refers to a network of computers that are connected and controlled by the “bot herder”. The bot herder can spread malware incredibly fast with the use of botnets, since each bot is infected with malware - the bot herder can in theory have millions of bots around the world and thus infect all of the millions of devices.

These devices are e.g. computers, smartphones, Internet of Things (IoT) devices, and servers. Cybercriminals establish control over these devices by exploiting vulnerabilities, tricking users into installing malicious software, or leveraging default credentials.

Once infected, these devices become bots, serving as a massive army of compromised machines ready to execute the botnet operator's commands.

The modus operandi of botnets

Botnets are an attractive feature to hackers since they have many purposes. Some of them include:

  • DDoS attacks: One of the most common uses of botnets is to organize Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. By flooding a target server or network with a massive amount of bot traffic, the target becomes inaccessible to users, leading to serious disruption and financial damage.

  • Spam distribution: Cybercriminals can use spam to spread malware, phishing schemes, and other frauds by using botnets to send out enormous numbers of spam emails.

  • Brute force attacks: Botnets have the ability to use stolen credentials to break into multiple online accounts or conduct brute force attacks on login systems.

  • Click fraud: Botnets can be programmed to generate fake clicks on online ads, tricking the advertisers into thinking that their ad is getting genuine attention - and they thus pay money to keep it. It is, however, non-existent traffic they pay for which ultimately disrupts the advertising ecosystem.

  • Data theft: Botnets can be used to exfiltrate sensitive data from compromised devices, leading to potential identity theft, corporate espionage, or the exposure of private information.

Hackers use rootkits to become an administrator of a certain software - in this case they become the admin of the botnets.

The underground economy of botnets

It’s hard to imagine the scale of botnets since they are enormous. And because they are so big, they have become attractive for hackers - both to make and also to rent or buy. Hackers can sell or rent out botnets on the dark web, making it a lot easier for rookie hackers to engage in cybercrime; without having to develop their own botnet infrastructure.

The prices vary depending on the size and capabilities of the botnet, providing cybercriminals with a means to monetize their illegal activities.

Cybercriminals don’t use regular payment methods, their entire economy is an underground economy with cryptocurrency and transactions, since it’s undetectable.

Challenges in detecting and mitigating botnets

Botnets are designed to remain stealthy and circumvent detection to increase their impact. Detecting and mitigating botnets pose significant challenges due to the following factors:

  • Botnet Resilience: Botnet operators are getting better at putting resilient infrastructures in place. They use domain generation algorithms (DGAs) to dynamically switch out C&C servers, which makes it hard for ethical hackers to track down and take down the hacker's infrastructure.

  • Encrypted Communication: Since many botnets use encrypted communication channels, our regular security measures might not be able to decrypt the content, thus making the detection efforts even more complicated than they already are.

  • Geographic Distribution: Botnets are scattered around the world, meaning that there’s infected devices all around the globe. That is why it’s so difficult to track down the bot herder(s) and remove the botnet.

The fight against botnets

It’s a never ending fight against botnets, but we can try and implement different strategies to our cybersecurity to make it harder for the hackers to infiltrate our software.

First and foremost, we should always keep our software updated with the latest updates - these contain patches that fix the security holes and gaps that the hackers exploit. Secondly, we should install antivirus software that can detect and remove cyber threats on our devices.

Next thing you should do is to have firewalls installed, and do regular check ups of your software. Firewalls secure your computer network and the activities surrounding it - so it would most likely detect unusual activities from botnets.

Lastly, awareness training is key when it comes to cybersecurity. It’s often the human errors that give hackers access to software and data - and hackers know this. They are constantly trying to exploit this vulnerability to their advantage. So, by educating yourself in cybersecurity, you strengthen your defense against hackers and decrease the risk of falling victim of a cyber attack.

Don’t forget the botnets

Botnets represent a persistent and formidable challenge in the world of cybersecurity. These powerful networks of compromised devices have the potential to wreak havoc on a massive scale, affecting you, your organization, and the critical software infrastructure on your devices.

By understanding how they work and their scale, you can take proactive steps to better protect yourself from cyber attacks. The safety of your digital ecosystem relies on your vigilance.

Author Caroline Preisler

Caroline Preisler

Caroline is a copywriter here at Moxso beside her education. She is doing her Master's in English and specializes in translation and the psychology of language. Both fields deal with communication between people and how to create a common understanding - these elements are incorporated into the copywriting work she does here at Moxso.

View all posts by Caroline Preisler

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