An ever-growing part of our lives happens online. For this reason it is no surprise that criminal activities have adapted and now take place online. Botnets are the perfect vehicle for online crime, but what is a botnet and how can you protect yourself against it?
In this article you will be able to find out what botnets are, what they are used for, and how this affects those who are infected. Finally, you will find out how you can protect your devices against becoming part of a botnet.
What is a Botnet and how Does it Work?
Botnet is a combinations of the words “robot” and “network”. A botnet exists out of a multitude of different devices that often don’t know they are part of this network. These devices have been infected with a bot, which means a hacker can take control over of the devices.
A bot herder or bot master is the person that controls the bots. This person can do so through a command-and-control server. This can be set up in different ways but eventually comes down to the same thing. One person can control a large quantity of devices at a distance. The bot herder can send the same command to all the bots in the network at the same time. For instance, prompting them to all visit a website simultaneously, a so-called DDoS attack.
There are some slight differences in method, but most botnets function as follows:
- Devices get infected with bots, for instance, by visiting a shady website or clicking on a corrupted link.
- The bots force the infected devices to connect to a command-and-control server.
- The bot herder can now use these devices any way he likes. The bot master can also rent out or sell the botnet once he has created it.
All devices that are connected to the internet can be infected with a bot, so not just your computer. This way, hackers can create a network of thousands or even millions of devices. Bot herders can use their bot network for different purposes.
Uses of Botnets
As you might imagine, a botnet can have many uses. We listed the most common ones below.
1. DDoS Attacks
The most common use of a botnet is for conducting DDoS attacks. The letter in DDoS refer to distributed denial-of-service. This means that too many devices will try to access a website at the same time. The server of the website cannot handle an infinite amount of visitors.
Sometimes this happens by accident when a lot of people have a reason to visit the same website at the same moment, for instance, to see if they have won anything in the lottery. However, with a botnet you can create an overload by directing all the bots in the network to visit one particular website at the same time.
Such a DDoS attack can cause a website to be unreachable for real users. The attacks are often a show of strength and are used to show the weaknesses of big companies.
Without the owners of the devices knowing, they can be used to spread spam. The bot master can send emails or post on Facebook, all under your name. Your friends and family might open these emails or click on links because they trust you. Without knowing it you might be infecting everybody around you with bots or other viruses and spyware. With a bot the bot herder often has access to all your contacts, making it easy for the bot herders to make their network bigger.
3. Sell Credentials
Once a hacker has placed a bot on your device they have access to all the information on it. This means they probably know you passwords and login information. This way they can steel your identity and do things in your name. Moreover, they might sell this information to others. Your personal information can, for instance, be used in human trafficking. Identity theft is a real danger in this modern day and age. Your credentials might also be sold on the dark web.
4. Bitcoin Mining
This is a relatively new use of botnets. To mine bitcoin you need a lot of processor power. The bot herder can use the processor power of the bot-infected devices to mine bitcoins. This happens without the owners of the devices knowing. The only thing you might notice is that you PC or Mac is hard at work and your ventilation system might be working over-hours. However, it is questionable whether or not this mining method is actually worthwhile, because you need a lot of bots to generate a small sum of money.
5. Malware Infection/Spreading
When a bot herder has access to your device they can also infect it with malware. There are many types of malware. For instance, ransomware is becoming more and more well-known. In these cases the hacker will hold your device hostage and send you a ransom message. They can ask you to pay them and in return you will get access to your device again. However, you never know if you will actually regain control of your beloved device; if you’re out of luck the hacker might just ask for more money.
Am I Part of a Botnet?
It’s very difficult to find out if you are part of a botnet or not. One sign that implies there might be something fishy going on, is when you experience slow and unstable connections. However, this can be due to other problems with your device.
One definite give-away is when you see you have posted something on social media that you didn’t post yourself. This is a sign that someone else has access to your device, or at least your account. In such an event it’s good to notify your contacts that they shouldn’t open weird links from you.
However, it is best to prevent becoming part of a botnet!
Protection from Botnets
To protect your devices from becoming infected with a bot, there are several things you can do. First of all, it is very important to keep all the software on your devices up-to-date. Always install the latest version of software and make sure to turn on automatic updates. These updates might seem annoying sometimes, but becoming part of a botnet is definitely more annoying.
Moreover, be watchful when you are online. Do not click on links you do not trust and make sure you only download files from trustworthy sources. Fake emails and links are often used to infect unsuspecting users with bots.
It is very important to always protect your devices with an anti-virus and an anti-spyware. This is essential to being well-protected online. This type of software will warn you when something looks shady and will block hackers from gaining access to your device.
Finally, for the best protection online you might consider using a VPN. A Virtual Private Network encrypts all of your data so no hacker can crack it. Moreover, it anonymizes everything you do online. With a VPN it will be virtually impossible for hackers to gain access to your accounts.
Moreover, you can surf the internet without any restriction. A super safe VPN provider that you might want to look at is NordVPN. They are part of our top 5 of the best VPN providers.
Botnet are the modern-day army. Without knowing it your devices can be part of large-scale cyber attacks. For this reason, it is important to keep your protection up to date. Make sure you always have good anti-malware software installed on your devices. To fully protect all your online activities you can also use a VPN.