Now, more than ever, it is vital to maintain cybersecurity. With hackers and threats becoming stealthier and stealthier by the day, malware, viruses, spyware, botnets, and more have become so intricate and complex, they can be difficult to detect by even the best professionals and cybersecurity specialists.
Although a cyber attack is not altogether fully preventable, there are protocols and measures to take that can minimize the chances of such an occurrence. Botnets, in particular, are immensely tricky to discover and then completely eliminate, and for this reason, it is important for anyone intending to enter a career in IT to be fully aware of the presence of this type of cyber threat.
Those who do not intend to enter into an IT-related profession can, too, benefit from this knowledge – recognizing the existence of botnets is valuable information for any individual that regularly works on their computer or surfs the internet.
In this article, we will explain in detail about botnets and how they create cyber attacks, as well as ways in which they can be prevented as best as possible, so that you can minimize the chances of being affected by such a security breach whether at home, in a public area, or at your place of employment.
What Are Botnets and How Do They Create Cyber Attacks?
Unlike many cyber-attacks that are generated by stealing and destroying sensitive data by finding weak points in technical computer aspects, botnets are a unique and extremely next-level type of threat. This is because not only does a botnet produce an attack, any system that has been compromised becomes an attacker as well.
Essentially, with botnets, the victim also becomes the perpetrator, usually without the knowledge of the computer owner or manager. For those who are concerned with cybersecurity, the idea of this transfer of roles can actually be perceived as quite terrifying.
A botnet is basically short for a “network of bots,” which, simply put, is what a botnet represents accurately. Botnets infect various computers and software, essentially producing an army of bots that are willing and ready to infect other devices and continue spreading dangerous and risky cyber intruders.
A “bot” is the term used for the type of software program that is run by any device or network that is affected by a botnet. All of the bots and botnets are monitored by a bot-master system, an overseer that observes and counts how many devices have been infected and what the roles of the attacking bots are.
The master commands and orchestrates the movement and undertakings of all the bots, and sometimes another buffer layer is added on in order to manage and oversee some of the more complex and large-scale threats. As the bots continue to infect one computer after another, they report back to their bot-master a count of devices affected, which the master then logs.
Additionally, botnet managers are ready to always update any software that needs to be fixed, removing bugs, glitches, and more. Although this is a common practice in many tech-related systems, to think that such an intricate organization exists amongst a network with very poor or even evil intentions, is unnerving.
Mainly what makes these botnet armies so challenging to detect, has to do with the fact that bots are always running in stealth mode, meaning that they can easily be brushed under the rug.
Furthermore, bot-masters and bot-managers are constantly changing roles as well as countries of origin, in order to provide another layer of undetectability.
In summary, a computer or device is infected by a bot in three organized steps:
- The bot-master sends instructions out to bot-managers as to which devices will be infected. The bot-manager or managers then instruct their bot-children to do the real damage.
- The bot-children are sent on their way as an infection module, one that is fit with the vital task of discovering servers that are non-patched, gluing onto them their latest infectious copy. Each bot is given a special identification number, which the bot-master has constant records and access to.
- An infected system that has been entered by a bot then mutates into a bot itself but in such a stealthy, unnoticeable manner. This then adds to the bot-army, which is also a system of zombie machines, also known as machines that can’t quite think for themselves or protect themselves and are intruded upon by outside influences.
The typical goal of a bot-master is to steal data or disrupt computer systems, and due to a large number of forces that team up, it is often that hackers overseeing a botnet system can accomplish their malicious undertakings with speed, success, and ease once the initial programming is conducted.
Some commonly found bots and their intentions are:
- CCBot: collects credit card info
- idBot: collects password and user id information
- SpamBot: collects address books for email spamming
- BrowseBot: collects browsing trends for advertisers
- ChatBot: monitors communication trends by collecting chat transcripts
Although this is only a handful of the many present bots throughout the digital world, it can clearly be seen how potentially compromising many of these bots can be.
Hackers who have developed and implemented botnet systems are often in for a great reward with very few consequences and low potential risk. This is a major reason why hackers have turned towards botnets in this modern era of computers where it is possible to do so.
Common Botnets and Their Impacts
Throughout modern digital history, there have been strings of botnet attacks, some of which rose to significant fame due to their detrimental impact that was rather difficult to detect.
BredoLab is one of the newest botnet armies, and it has impacted more than 20 million machines globally. Its intentions were to produce email spam that extended out on a mass scale, but it also involved viruses and spyware. Law authorities have reportedly gotten rid of this botnet, but it is suspected that variations of the same infector are still floating around and have access to sensitive data.
Conficker, another common botnet, was once upon a time considered a virus, but it was also able to enter devices remotely so that they could be controlled. Through file sharing and those fragile aspects, Conficker was able to impact the entire fleets of machines, producing the zombie-like army that is standard for botnet breaches. It is said to have affected more than 10 million devices worldwide.
Understanding How Botnets Can Be Better Prevented
As we mentioned, it is unfortunately quite challenging to detect the presence of a botnet, and often once it has become observable, the bot has dragged your device into its zombie-bot army where it has potentially infected other machines.
Much like Malware, Botnets do produce certain symptoms, which can better assist in the detection of such threats. If you find that your computer begins to run slowly, gives error messages, has a fan that starts up out of nowhere, or starts acting strangely, then there is a chance that your device is infected with some type of botnet or other Malware.
Although not perfect, some preventative measures can be implemented in order to better protect your devices against botnet attacks.
Steps You Can Take to Protect Yourself as Best as Possible
Here’s how you can better monitor your networks for botnet infiltrations:
- This may seem obvious, but always install extremely reliable and powerful antivirus software onto your devices immediately. Be sure that the settings of your chosen software are turned on for auto-updates. That’ll give your computer the most recent protective technology available at all times.
- Be extremely cautious about what files, links, images you click on, open up, or download. The internet is full of potential threats, and just because you might believe a specific website or file is safe, it very well could be dangerous without your knowledge.
- Never ever click on links or files that are sent from unrecognizable or questionable email addresses. This is one of the most common ways that botnets enter devices turning them into members of the zombie army.
Final Thoughts of Understanding Cyber Attack Botnets and Preventive Measures
Even if it is not possible to avoid all cyber attacks and threats, there are measures that can be taken in order to minimize any potential negative impacts. If you are a regular internet browser or computer user, in this day and age it is important more than ever to have the right securities set in place to better protect yourself and your sensitive or even confidential information from ill-intentioned hackers.
If you are located in the San Diego area and are interested in entering a career in IT as well as learn about cybersecurity and attack prevention, at ICOHS we offer three comprehensive programs: Computer and Networking Technician Certification, It Network Specialist, and IT Systems Administrator.
ICOHS is a non-profit, vocational college that intends to provide a unique and deeply personalized learning experience for students passionate about their field of study. If your passion or interest in IT, reach out to ICOHS today and request more information.