When we think about cyberattacks, we mainly worry about data and financial theft. But sometimes, hackers aren't targeting your data. They want to borrow your device for a bigger purpose, leading to repercussions that can ripple through every aspect of your business, including its financial health.
By leveraging any vulnerability in your operating system, they install barely noticeable malware and connect your device to a network of other small programs. This is known as a botnet attack.
Understanding and preventing botnet attacks helps you safeguard not just the data but the entire ecosystem of online commerce, which is foundational for maintaining customer trust, financial integrity and lower chargeback rates. Let’s start with the first step, which is understanding what a botnet attack really is and how deadly it can be.
What is a Botnet Attack?
To define a botnet attack, let's break down the word botnet — a combination of two words: robot and net. A botnet is a network of internet-connected devices. When hackers infect these devices with malware, they can use them to carry out malicious attacks.
So, a botnet attack is when a cybercriminal uses a botnet to carry out a malicious attack.
During this attack, the attacker uses a command and control system to direct the actions of those devices (referred to as zombie bots) remotely.
Any internet-enabled device can be used as a zombie bot in a botnet attack — especially one that isn't regularly updated. Computers, routers, tablets, smartwatches, fitness trackers, and security cameras are some devices that can be vulnerable.
A botnet attack is one of the most devastating cybersecurity threats for businesses. And the more devices infected with the malware, the more catastrophic the attack will be.
Hackers can use it to carry out DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service), one of the most devastating cybercrime threats. When DDoS hits, a company's website is overwhelmed, preventing it from serving its actual users.
A situation like this negatively impacts business operations and, eventually, the bottom line. With over 40% of traffic to ecommerce websites coming from bots, the need to protect your e-commerce from botnet attacks has never been higher.
How Do Botnet Attacks Work?
Whether it is carried out by one hacker or a group of cybercriminals, a botnet attack aims to use an army of zombie bots to attack a server, company website, or other devices.
The bot herder — the orchestrator(s) of the attack controls these zombie bots.
Once the attacker has created the desired number of bots, they try to establish control of the botnet via a centralized or decentralized model. Let’s break down what each mode of control involves.
In a centralized botnet attack, a single server functions as the bot herd. A hierarchy of proxy servers may exist under it, but the commands come from the bot herder server.
However, this approach is outdated because it is easier to identify and shut down one centralized server.
Decentralized (P2P) Model
As the name suggests, in this model, control is decentralized. That means there is no bot herd. All the bots in the botnet can give instructions for attack. The attacker only needs to communicate with one of them, and the malware can still be distributed.
This makes the P2P framework trickier to identify and shut down. The hacker can do more damage since it is more challenging to determine the source of the attack. As a result, the decentralized model is widely adopted.
How Devastating is a Botnet Attack?
The short answer is incredibly damaging.
Unlike single malware attacks, botnet attacks do more harm. The severity of these attacks and the number of connected devices involved are problematic for any organization.
For instance, cybercriminals can use botnets to launch Distributed Denial of Service on call center software, causing it to crash or be unavailable to users.
Considering how crucial customer support is to customer satisfaction, this is a significant problem rising yearly for ecommerce retailers..
A report from Spamhaus says from Q3 2021 to Q4 202, the number of Command and Control botnets increased by 23%.
One of the main issues with combating botnet attacks is that they are evasive. Attackers can exploit incoming software updates from compromised devices to reroute or escalate their attacks. This ensures they stay ahead of defense measures adopted by their victims.
With an army of zombie bots, one cybercriminal can potentially bring down entire networks, steal sensitive information, and even launch large-scale DDoS attacks. Through rapid replication and distribution, they can hijack growing numbers of unwitting devices.
How to Protect Your Business from Botnet Attacks
The world is increasingly interconnected. The internet, global transportation, and social media have unprecedentedly brought people and cultures together. This interconnectedness has changed the way we live, work, and interact with each other.
Today, more than 15 billion devices are connected to the internet, which is great. But it also means more people are exposed to cyber-attacks and threats. As a business, you are responsible for preventing fraud and scams and protecting your customers' sensitive information.
But building trust among your consumer base is about more than protecting any of their personal data you collect and store. Trust in security practices also extends to financial transactions, which is crucial in effectively managing chargebacks and other payment processes related to fraud.
Thus, you must take the necessary measures to ensure the security of your digital infrastructure and the safety of your customers' data. Here are a few tips to prevent botnet attacks.
- Keep Software Updated
As technology advances, so do malware and cyber-attack techniques. This is why ensuring that your entire system is up-to-date is critical to prevent botnet attacks.
Several botnet attacks are disguised as legitimate software updates or emails, making it difficult for users to detect them.
Keep your devices secure by installing antivirus and updated software patches as soon as they are available. From cloud-based inventory and accounting software to any call center solution for small business that you use, implement strong security measures across all your technological assets.
This ensures your system has the latest security measures to detect and prevent potential botnet attacks.
Consider these measures part of your wider security strategy. Implementing comprehensive security protocols across the board is vital for all aspects of online business operations, including financial transactions.
- Monitor Your Network Closely
You can quickly identify potential data leaks before they escalate by monitoring your network traffic. Monitoring your network traffic is crucial in detecting any suspicious activity indicative of a botnet attack.
By closely monitoring your network, you can identify anomalies such as unusually high data traffic or sudden spikes in network activity. These could be signs that your devices have been compromised and are being used as part of a botnet.
Invest in network monitoring tools that can provide real-time insights into your network traffic. These tools can help you identify patterns and behaviors consistent with botnet activity.
Additionally, set up alerts and notifications that will alert you immediately if any attacks or suspicious activity is detected.
- Implement Strong Password Policies
One of the most common ways botnets gain access to devices is through weak passwords.
Many people still use easy-to-guess passwords such as "12345" or "password." As a business, enforcing strong password policies to protect your digital assets is important. Implement a multi-layered defense; this is crucial for limiting unauthorized access. It should also include strategies to identify and prevent fraudulent chargebacks.
Require employees to create complex passwords that combine uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters. Encourage them to use unique passwords for each account and change them regularly.
Consider implementing two-factor authentication (2FA) for added security. This requires users to provide a second verification method, such as a fingerprint or a unique code sent to their mobile device.
Educate your customers to do the same for their devices as well to limit the chances of unauthorized transactions, which could eventually lead to chargebacks.
- Monitor Failed Login Attempts
Account takeover, or ATO, is one of the biggest threats to online companies. Malicious actors usually attempt to gain unauthorized access to user accounts by testing large amounts of stolen usernames and passwords.
Monitor your usual rate of failed login attempts to establish a baseline. Then, you can set alerts to notify you of spikes in failed logins, which may indicate a botnet attack. However, attacks coming from various IP addresses may not trigger those alerts.
- Train Staff Properly
Your employees are your best line of defense against cyber attacks. Invest in regular cybersecurity training and education for your staff to ensure they are armed with the skills to identify and prevent botnet attacks.
Train them on recognizing phishing emails, suspicious attachments, and links that could potentially install malware on their devices.
Additionally, make sure your employees understand the importance of keeping their devices and software up to date. Botnets often exploit vulnerabilities in outdated systems, so staying up-to-date with security patches and updates is crucial.
- Implement Firewalls and Antivirus Software
Firewalls function as a barrier between your internal network and the outside world. They monitor and control any incoming and outgoing traffic. It is essential to have a robust firewall in place to filter out any malicious traffic that could be associated with a botnet attack.
Alongside a firewall, invest in reliable antivirus solutions that can detect and remove malware and threats from your devices. Regularly scan your systems for any signs of infection and ensure that your antivirus software is frequently updated to stay ahead of emerging threats.
- Implement Zero Trust Architecture
Zero trust architecture assumes that users and devices cannot be trusted by default. All users and devices must undergo strict authentication and authorization processes before accessing any resources or data.
Many organizations are proactively adding this security model to their enterprise transformation roadmap as they work to prevent potential breaches.
Implementing a zero-trust approach means verifying every user, device, and application attempting to access your network — even if they are already inside your perimeter.
This can significantly reduce the risk of a botnet attack by preventing unauthorized access. This ensures that only legitimate users and devices can interact with your systems.
It’s essential to recognize that botnet attacks represent just one facet of the many cybersecurity threats confronting ecommerce businesses in today’s digital age. However, by adopting the proactive measures and implementing the above mentioned strategies, such as updating software, monitoring network anomalies, and enforcing robust password protocols, you can significantly reduce the risk of falling victim to a botnet attack.
Equip your team with the knowledge to recognize and sidestep these hazards. Through heightened vigilance and ongoing training, your business can not only reduce the risk of botnet infiltration but also strengthen its overall cybersecurity posture against the diverse array of digital threats.
About the Author: Jenna Bunnell is the Director for Field and Strategic Events at Dialpad, an AI-incorporated cloud-hosted unified communications system that provides valuable call details for business owners and sales representatives. She is driven and passionate about communicating a brand’s design sensibility and visualizing how content can be presented in creative and comprehensive ways. Here is her LinkedIn.