What is Botnet?
By Nick Anderson 5 minutes
Botnets have become a major threat to the security of any IT infrastructure. As more devices come online everywhere, the potential for new and strong botnet malware have increased proportionally. Hackers have evolved and scaled their attacks to match modern security systems.
If you have heard of big cyberattacks making headlines in the news, the chances are that a botnet powered it. Large scale services a hard to take down or disrupt; this is where botnet provides the kind of large scale computing prowess required to bring down the defences. Let us explain how a botnet is formed and how an individual device works collectively with other devices on the botnet.
A Botnet is a Swarm
The quite simplest way to explain is that it’s a network of bots, hence the term botnet. In computers, bots are referred to a program that’s designed for a purpose. Bots are used to get things done that would otherwise require human input. Google Search – for example – uses bots to crawl webpages across the internet, analyze the content, then index them in the search engine. It would have taken Google engineers countless hours to check each webpage. Similarly, bots are used for chat support services to answer most common questions.
But the bots in the discussion here are sinister; their only goal is to infect and attack. A botnet is a malware that has infected several computers. The infected computers form a network to carry out large scale attacks.
Typically, a malware aims to infect and attack a single system first, and then infect other systems on the network in the case of a virus or worm. But a botnet is designed to synchronize with other infected systems for a coordinated attack.
How Botnets Attack
Once a botnet malware has infected a system, it will leave the system vulnerable for commands from the attacker – also known as the command centre.
The prominent services of the web are designed to handle a large number of user requests simultaneously. A botnet provides the attacker access to the kind of computing capability and coordinated attack that’s needed to overwhelm a web server. A Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) is an attack where multiple requests are sent to a web server simultaneously to overwhelm its responsiveness. DDoS can prevent legitimate users from accessing a service and also bring down services temporarily.
Botnets are also used for mass spam email campaigns, phishing, financial theft, or spread malware to more systems. ZeuS is a notorious botnet malware that stole financial information through keylogging whenever the user was on a banking website. The malware would record user credentials, then wire money from victim’s account. It is estimated that ZeuS caused losses exceeding $100 million.
Botnets rose to prominence when cryptocurrency mining was at its peak. Cryptocurrency is a decentralized digital currency that’s earned through a process called mining. It involves solving complex mathematical problems. As time goes on, the complexity of those mathematical problems grew. Users who were mining with just a single computer found themselves at a plateau; significantly more computer power was needed to earn more coins fast.
The collective computing capabilities of devices were the only way forward. Hence, Cyptojacking became an ideal way to establish a network of computing devices that can be made use of the purpose of mining.
How to Prevent Botnet Infection
Botnets typically infect a system through a Trojan or drive-by download. A trojan is a type of malware that poses as a legitimate program but hosts malicious code. Trojans are a common way to deliver malware, as it’s much more likely to succeed because of unsuspecting users.
Once a botnet malware has infected a system, it will remain dormant until its programming kicks in. The malware can bypass detection systems, which is why it’s likely to go unnoticed by the user. However, common signs such as high resource usage, performance slowdown, or high bandwidth consumption could be an indication of a malware infection.
- Never download programs from third-party websites. Legitimate programs can act as a trojan for a botnet, or other types of malware. Download the most recent version of a program directly from the developer’s website.
- Email is another way through which attackers infiltrate a system. Phishing is a fraudulent technique that asks the user to visit a malicious link or download a malicious file. Once the file is executed, it will quietly install the botnet in your system.
- Windows Defender is a capable threat monitoring tool. Keep it updated with new threat signatures.
- Anti-virus is the best defence against malware. It will monitor system activity, scan new program installation and external drives, and even scan email attachments and downloads for malware. Investing in an anti-virus which is capable of dealing with various types of malware – existing and emerging ones – will go a long way.
FastestVPN features anti-malware protection. It’s not a robust solution but guarantees some form of safety while browsing the web. It matches known malicious domains and blocks them, preventing any drive-by downloads. In the end, an anti-virus is the most capable tool you can get to eliminate malware and prevent infection.