Botnet Attacks: What Is a Botnet & How Does It Work

What are botnet attacks?

A coat rack combining the words “robot” and “network”, botnet is the term used to designate a group of hijacked devices. During a botnet attack, hundreds of devices are loaded with malware and used for malicious activities such as distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks and spam distribution or to validate credentials for account takeovers.

If your device or network has been invaded by malware that turns it into a zombie (a device controlled by the attacker), you will notice performance issues. For example, you may find that you cannot access your website, suddenly bombarded with spam and pop-ups, or have slow performance.

IoT is not the only vehicle for this style of attack. Because bots can launch thousands of attacks simultaneously, hackers use them to find as many vulnerabilities in as little time as possible. Many threat actors are part of crime syndicates or very sophisticated nation-state organizations, and botnets are a popular attack vector because they are inexpensive to launch with potentially high payoff.

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What are the Types of Botnets?

Botnets can be categorized into two types:

  •  Centralized, Client-Server Model

The first generation of botnets operated on a client-server architecture, where the Command and Control (C&C) server manages the entire botnet.

  • Decentralized, Peer-to-Peer (P2P) Model

The new generation of botnets are peer-to-peer, where the bots share commands and information with each other and are not in direct contact with the C&C server.

How does a Botnet Work?

Here’s a simplified version of creating a botnet:

  • A hacker starts with the initial malware infection to create zombie devices using techniques like web downloads, exploit kits, pop-up ads, and email attachments.
  • If it is a centralized botnet, the breeder will direct the infected device to a C&C server. If it is a P2P botnet, peer spread begins and zombie devices seek to connect to other infected devices.
  • The zombie computer will then download the latest update from the C&C channel to receive its order.
  • The bot then executes its commands and engages in malicious activity.

What attackers can do

Botnets can have a direct and indirect impact on users. The most direct impact is that an infected machine is no longer under the control of the legitimate user. Most people today store highly sensitive content (such as financial or legal details) on their personal devices; this information becomes vulnerable once the device is infected.

If the device is owned by a business or government organization, losing control of it can endanger critical business functions or social services.

More indirectly, botnets can be used by their controllers to perform other harmful actions, such as:

  • Launching Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks on competing websites or services
  • Distribution of spam or malware
  • Exploitation of digital currencies
  • Unless appropriate defensive measures are in place, targets of DDoS attacks or recipients of spam can experience significant disruption to their normal business operations.
  • Botnet operators can also run them as a business transaction, offering the collective resources of “their” botnet to other parties as a service. This allows other criminals to carry out nefarious activities with a minimum of hassle.

How to Prevent Botnet Attacks

You protect your devices from infection with botnet Trojans (so that they cannot be used in botnet attacks against others):

  • Software Updates: Regularly update all software to the latest version.
  • Phishing emails: beware of phishing emails. Make sure the sender’s email address belongs to the company they claim to be.
  • Online downloads: Avoid downloading attachments or clicking links in emails if the email is from an unknown sender. Be careful when downloading software, images, videos, songs, etc. from unknown sites. Scan everything with a reliable antivirus solution before downloading them.
  • Security software: Install robust anti-malware, anti-spyware, and firewalls on your devices.
  • Manual Folder Check: Regularly check your C: / Program File and C: / Program Files (x86) folders. If you see an unknown program, search the Internet. If it isn’t from a trusted publisher, delete it from its original location as well as from the Trash.

This article covers the answers to some of your frequently asked questions:

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