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The Internet is filled with threats to online security. Many of these threats are just productive, positive technologies turned to evil use. The botnet is an example of using good technologies for bad intentions. A botnet is nothing more than a string of connected computers coordinated together to perform a task.

Definition of Botnets

Botnets are the workhorses of the Internet. They’re connected computers performing a number of repetitive tasks to keep websites going. It’s most often used in connection with Internet Relay Chat. These types of botnets are entirely legal and even beneficial to maintaining a smooth user experience on the Internet.

The word ‘botnet’ is a combination of two words, ‘robot’ and ‘network.’ Here, a cybercriminal who performs the role of a botmaster uses Trojan viruses to breach the security of several computers and connect them into a network for malicious purposes. Each computer on the network acts as a ‘bot’ and is controlled by a scammer to transmit malware or spam or malicious content in order to launch the attack. A botnet is also known as a Zombie Army as the computers involved are being controlled by someone other than their owner.

What you need to be careful of are the illegal and malicious botnets. What happens is that botnets gain access to your machine through some piece of malicious coding. In some cases, your machine is directly hacked, while other times what is known as a “spider” (a program that crawls the Internet looking for holes in security to exploit) does the hacking automatically.

HOW BOTNET WORKS

Once the botnet’s owner is in control of your computer, they usually use your machine to carry out other nefarious tasks. Common tasks executed by botnets include:

  • Using your machine’s power to assist in distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks to shut down websites.
  • Emailing spam out to millions of Internet users.
  • Generating fake Internet traffic on a third-party website for financial gain.
  • Replacing banner ads in your web browser specifically targeted at you.
  • Pop-ups ads designed to get you to pay for the removal of the botnet through a phony anti-spyware package.

The short answer is that a botnet is hijacking your computer to do what botnets do — carry out mundane tasks — faster and better.

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Types of Botnet Attacks

Distributed Denial of Operations Service:

A botnet can be used for a distributed denial of operations service (DDoS) attack to destroy the network connectivity and services. This is done by overburdening the computational resources or by consuming the bandwidth of the victim. The most commonly implemented attacks are TCP SYN and UDP flood attacks. DDoS attacks are not limited only to the web servers but can be targeted to any service connected to the internet. The severity of the attack can be increased by using recursive HTTP-floods on the victim’s website which means that the bots follow all the links on the HTTP link in a recursive way. This form is called spidering which is practiced to increase the load effectively.

One of the biggest DDoS botnet attacks of the year was  IoT-related and used the Mirai botnet virus. The virus targeted and controlled tens of thousands of less protected internet devices and turned them into bots to launch a DDoS attack. Mirai spawned many derivatives and continued to expand, making the attack more complex. It changed the threat landscape forever in terms of the techniques used.

Spamming and Traffic Monitoring:

A bot can be used as a sniffer to identify the presence of sensitive data in the infected machines or zombies. It can also locate competitor botnets if installed in the same machine and can be hijacked by the commander. Some bots may offer to open a SOCKS v4/v5 proxy (generic proxy protocol for TCP /IP based network). When the SOCKS proxy is enabled on a compromised machine, it can be used for various purposes like spamming. Bots use a packet sniffer to watch for the information or data been passed by the compromised machine. The sniffer can retrieve sensitive information such as a username and password.

Grum is the type of spam which is hard to detect as it infects files used by Autorun registries. This botnet has attracted the researches as it is relatively small with only 600,000 members but accounts for 40 billion spam-emails per day which is approximately 25% of the total spam emails.

Keylogging:

With the help of keylogger, it becomes easy for a botmaster to retrieve sensitive information and steal data. Using a keylogger program, an attacker can gather only the keys typed that come in the sequence of interesting words like PayPal, Yahoo, etc.

A kind of spyware identified as OSX/XSLCmd ported from Windows to OS X includes keylogging and screen capture capabilities.

Mass Identity Theft:

Different kinds of bots can be mixed to perform large-scale identity theft which is one of the fastest growing crimes. [7] Spam emails are sent by bots to direct the traffic towards fake websites representing bots to harvest personal data. Bots can be used to appear as a legitimate company and ask the user to submit personal details like bank account password, credit card details, taxation details, etc. Mass identity theft can be performed using phishing emails that trick victims into entering login credentials on websites like eBay, Amazon, or even their banks.

Pay-per-click abuse:

Google’s AdSense program allows websites to display Google advertisements and thereby earn money from them. Google pays money to the website owners on the basis of the number of clicks their advertisements gather. Compromised machines are used to automatically click on a site, inflating the number of clicks sent to the company with the ad.

Botnet spread:

Botnets are also used to spread other botnets by convincing the user to download the specific program and the program is executed through email, HTTP, or FTP.  It is a good idea to spread an email virus using this botnet. Two security researchers in the month of January 2017, discovered ‘Star Wars’ Twitter botnet that comprises of 350,000 bot accounts which tweeted random quotes from the movie franchise. Such bots if continuing to exist may create fake trending topics to sway public opinion, send unsolicited spam, launch cyber attacks and more.

Adware:

Adware is used to attract users by advertising on web pages or apps. They appear on machines without the knowledge or permission of the users with original ads being replaced by fraudulent adware which infects the system of any users who click on it.

Adware looks like harmless ads but uses spyware to collect browser data.In order to get rid of adware, anti-adware is required. Though there are many free and paid versions of anti-adware available, it is best to opt for a licensed one. Many virus scanning packages also come with anti-malware software.

Botnets can be expelled from or stopped from entering our machines using anti-malware which can spot infections on the hard disk or network traffic and treat them immediately. On the other hand, the most effective approach would be attaining a full-fledged education on how to fight botnets.

EFFECTS OF BOTNET ATTACKS

Botnets can impact users both directly and indirectly. … More indirectly, botnets can be used by their controllers to carry out other harmful actions, such as: Launching Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks on rival websites or services. Distributing spam emails or malware.

Due to their ability to coordinate attacks at massive scale, as well as deliver diverse payloads and infect other machines, botnets are a significant threat to individuals, enterprise and government organizations

How to Protect Your computer From Botnets

Most people who are infected with botnets aren’t even aware that their computer’s security has become compromised. However, taking simple, common-sense precautions when using the Internet can not only remove botnets that have been installed, it can also prevent them from being installed on your computer, tablet and phone in the first place.

  • Good security begins with an Internet security suite that detects malware that has been installed, removes what’s present on your machine and prevents future attacks.
  • Always update your computer,s operating system as early as possible. Hackers often utilize known flaws in operating system security to install botnets. You can even set your computer to install updates automatically.
  • The same is true of applications on your computer, phone and tablet. Once weakness are found and announced by software companies, hackers rush to create programs to exploit those weaknesses.
  • Don’t download or click a link from email addresses you don’t recognize. This is one of the most common vectors for all forms of malware.
  • Use a firewall when browsing the Internet. This is easy to do with Mac computers, as they come with Firewall software pre-installed. If you’re using a Windows-based machine, you might need to install third-party software.
  • Don’t visit websites that are known distributors of malware. One of the things that a full-service Internet security suite can do is warn you when you’re visiting such sites. When in doubt, check with

In general, hackers tend to look for low-hanging fruit. If you can mount even basic defenses, botnets and other forms of malware are going to look for easier targets.

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