What is a Botnet and How it Works?

With the consistent rise in internet users, security solutions are becoming more advanced to safeguard consumers from online malicious threats and cyber attacks. 

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On the other hand, cybercriminals are also not leaving any stone unturned to breach security and perform malicious attacks. In the last decade, we saw a rise in dangerous malware attacks. One such advanced threat is Botnet. 

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The botnet is currently the most significant threat to online security systems. It is becoming popular among cybercriminals due to its ability to infiltrate any device that is connected to the internet, including DVR players, Android TV, and more.

Using botnets, cybercriminals can generate a network of fraud advertising, illegally mine cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, and shut down a website using DDoS attacks.

In this post, we would discuss: 

What is a Botnet?

What is a botnet

If you noticed, the botnet is actually a combination of two words – Bot and Network. It is the collection of internet-connected devices like computers, mobile phones, IoT devices, Smart Television, and others that have been compromised with malware programs. Once infected, third-party controllers can operate your device remotely.

Each compromised device is a bot or Zombie, and collectively they create a network. This network is the botnet. Unethical developers use bot networks for carrying out malicious activities.

How does Botnet Works?

The botnet is a network of robots. Developers assign them to commit a malicious task. The handlers of a botnet who controls it are called the botmaster or bot herders. They have access to thousands of devices. They gain access by injecting a Trojan horse or other malware through email, drive-by downloads, or other means.

Once the botnet carrier enters your device, it would inform the botmaster, and the botmaster would take control of your system.

For botnets to evolve and become more vigorous, it must connect more and more devices to its network. The more the bots, the bigger the botnet, and the more significant the impact. Take an example. If ten people hit a website simultaneously, it won’t be disturbed much. However, if a thousand people hit it simultaneously, the site would get slow, and it may even crash with an increase in number. So size is vital for a botnet.

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Types of Botnet Attacks

Once your machine is added to the botnet, it would carry out the following disreputable tasks:

DDoS Attack

DDOS botnet attack

Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks is the most common executable attack using the network of bots. In a DDOS attack, bots send unusual traffic to the targeted website server. By doing so, intended users can not access the site. The infected bot army overloads the site to such a point that the server gets crashed.

If thousands of users visit a website, it will show an access denied error message. Thus, the user won’t be able to complete the desired task.

Email Spamming

By using the thousands of devices connected through a botnet, bot herders send emails to millions of people to spam their inboxes with unnecessary ads and offers.

Cryptocurrency Mining

The processing power of thousands of computers can collectively mine cryptocurrency like Bitcoins. Users would not be able to detect that their system’s RAM and other resources are in control of a botnet.

Ad Fraud

Cybercriminals can use the botnet to run fraud ad clicks by utilizing the processing power of the infected devices. The botmaster would direct all the infected machines to click on ads placed on a website. For every click, they get a small percentage of the advertising fees.

Generating Fake Traffic

Like the fraud ad clicks, a botnet can also generate fake traffic on a third-party website. It is generally used to get unethical financial gains from website visits.

Steal Information

A botnet can steal personal information from the infected devices and transfer those pieces of information to cybercriminals. Further, cybercriminals use this information for carrying out extortion and other illegal activities.

Banner and Pop-Up Ads

Botnet bombards the infected device with intrusive banners and pop-up ads. Pop-up ads are intriguing to trick the user so that they click on them, and malicious programs can enter the system. 

Botnet Selling and Renting

After a botnet serves its purpose, cybercriminals can sell or rent it. Other cyber criminals use this robot network to perform notorious tasks.

Botnet Architecture

For infecting more devices and controlling the bots, botnet basically uses two network architectures – Client-Server Model and Peer-to-Peer. Let us briefly understand them.

Client-Server Model vs Peer-to-Peer in botnet

Client-Server Model 

In the client-server architecture of a botnet, one of the bots acts as a central server, controlling the transfer of information from other connected bots, acting as a client. The botmaster uses special software to establish a connection and relay information between the server and clients. This process is known as Command and Control(C&C).

  Layered Security Configuration

The client-server architecture is best for taking and maintaining control over the bots. Since the control is centralized, there is no confusion during the communication. However, it has some downsides as well. It is easy for the security team to locate and destroy the network by targeting the central bot. And since there is only one control point, the botnet is dead once you destroy the server. So to overcome this, bot herders use peer-to-peer architecture.

Peer-to-Peer Architecture

Peer-to-peer architecture is more advanced and secure than the client-server model. It does not rely on a centralized command and control(C&C) server to add new bots. Instead, it uses a peer-to-peer(P2P) structure. In P2P architecture, each bot act as a client and server. Every single bot has a list of other infected devices so that they can establish a connection with them when required. 

Since there is no centralized server, it is difficult for a security team to locate the source’s position and destroy it. Like the Marvel villain group Hydra in Captain America: The First Avenger, killing a bot won’t kill the organization, since many are working to keep it alive.

How to Prevent Botnet Attack?

Till now, you might have known how dangerous the botnet can be. It is not a normal antimalware, so preventing it requires some healthy practices that should be followed by you regularly. We now know its working and architecture. Let us see how we can avoid it.

Update Operating System

An updated operating system would safeguard your system from not only botnets but also other threatening malware programs. An outdated OS may have some loose ends that can easily benefit the cybercriminals to launch a botnet attack on your device. We recommend you to set your operating system to update automatically and always ensure it manually that you are running the latest version.

Update the Installed Application

Like an outdated OS, an outdated application also makes your system vulnerable to a botnet attack. So to avoid that, it is necessary to update the installed software to its latest version.

Avoid Suspicious Emails

Emails are one of the primary carriers of malware. When you receive an email containing an attachment, thoroughly scan it with a security solution. If the source of the email is unknown or suspicious, avoid opening it and downloading the attachment.

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Avoid Download from Unreliable Sources

For launching their malware, cybercriminals choose the platform with a maximum user base. What better than a freeware download site? We highly suggest not to download freeware from unknown or insecure websites. There is a sure possibility that one or more of those freeware contains malware that can add your system to a botnet.

Do not Click on Suspicious Links and Pop-Ups

Like emails and freeware, infected links and pop-up ads are also popular carriers of malware like a trojan horse and others. Some pop-ups intentionally use clickbait titles to attract users to click on them. Some criminals use the popular social media network for spreading the infected links, like YouTube or Facebook comment section. Never click on those links and pop-ups so that your system remains protected.

Get Antivirus Software

Apart from following healthy browsing practices, the best way to ensure a total safeguard of your system is by getting a robust antimalware program for it. Choosing antimalware should not be difficult for you. It must be available for all of your devices, and apart from being sturdy enough to detect and kill malicious threats, it should also be light to the system so that your workflow is not disturbed.

Final Words

So this was all about botnet. It is becoming a popular method to carry out many malicious activities, not only online, but also offline illegitimacy such as influencing the voters before the election, carrying out fake campaigns using Facebook and Twitter ads, and many more. So it is essential to stay away from botnets so that your device does not become a part of the system that carries out unethical activities.

Botnet FAQs

Is Botnet illegal?

Botnets are often considered malicious; however, not all of them are illegal. Many botnets are used in maintaining the internet relay chats. These are entirely legal and even beneficial for keeping a smooth user experience.

Is DDoS a virus?

DDoS is not actually a virus, but it is an illegal attack carried out by the botnet on a website in order to crash its server.

How is a botnet created?

A botnet is created by creating a network of internet devices by infecting those with malware to make them a bot.

What can a botnet do?

A botnet can do many harmful activities like DDoS attacks, cryptocurrency mining, generating fake traffic, stealing personal information of the infected devices, and much more.

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