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What is a Botnet Attack? 5 Ways to Prevent It

Posted on February 2nd, 2022

A botnet is a cluster of machines that are infected with malware, enabling hackers to control them and unleash a string of attacks. Most commonly, botnets come in the form of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, and recently the Microsoft Azure DDoS Protection team reported a 25% increase in these attacks when compared to the first half of 2021.

Recent advances in technology have opened up a world of new opportunities for both consumers and businesses. However, this comes with a price – it also provides opportunities for cybercriminals to leverage botnets for credential leaks, unauthorized access, and data thefts.

What is a botnet attack and how does it work?

A botnet attack is a form of cyberattack that happens when a group of internet-connected devices is infected by malware that is under control by a malicious hacker. Botnet attacks typically involve sending spam, data theft, exploiting sensitive information, or launching vicious DDoS attacks. One of the most common challenges in preventing these attacks is the proliferation of devices. As different types of devices become readily available, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to monitor, detect, and stop botnet attacks.

Botnet attacks typically start when cybercriminals gain unauthorized access to devices by injecting Trojan viruses or utilizing basic social engineering tactics. Once hackers successfully gain access to these devices, they are brought under control with software that allows them to carry out attacks.

Common types of botnet attacks

Botnet attacks can vary based on the methods and tools they employ. Let’s take a closer look at some of the common types of botnet attacks.

Phishing attacks

Phishing attacks are an attack methodology that often leverages social engineering tactics to persuade an individual to perform an action that allows the criminal to steal their personal information. An example is when hackers send an email to users that appear to be from a trusted source to trick them into handing over confidential information such as passwords and financial information.

Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks

One of the more common types of botnet attacks is a DDoS attack – which is carried out by having bots overload a server with web traffic in order to crash it. The downtime in the server's operation caused by bots can also be exploited by launching additional botnet attacks.

Brute force attacks

Brute force attacks refer to a hacker using a trial-and-error method to guess login information, encryption keys or find hidden web pages. These attacks are carried out by ‘brute force’ meaning they use excessive attempts to ‘force’ their way into your private accounts.

5 ways to prevent botnet attacks

Read on to learn more about different preventive measures you can take to protect your organization against botnet attacks.

Ensure all systems are updated

Botnets often successfully penetrate and compromise networks by exploiting unpatched vulnerabilities present in the networks' machines. For that reason, it is crucial to regularly update your systems and ensure new updates are installed as soon as they are made available. Keep in mind that your hardware devices, especially legacy devices, should always be updated even when they are no longer used actively.

Maintain good cybersecurity hygiene

It is important to practice good cybersecurity hygiene to protect yourself against botnet attacks. This involves a variety of best practices that you can adopt – such as using hard-to-crack passwords, implementing employee awareness training, and ensuring new devices that enter the network have solid security settings.

Establish control access to machines and systems

Controlling access to machines and systems is another effective way to keep botnet attacks at bay. Not only should you use complex passwords, but you can also deploy multi-factor authentication and controls to provide access only to authorized users. When you control access and separate critical systems from each other, it’s easier to know exactly where the botnet attacks are located and eradicate them.

Continuously monitor network traffic

Preventing botnet attacks requires organizations to effectively detect them ahead of time. Organizations can use advanced analytics to continuously monitor and control traffic flows, user access, and data leaks.

Require cybersecurity training for employees

It happens more often than you realize – employees open emails from unknown senders, unintentionally clicking on malicious links and mishandling sensitive information. In fact, every employee has access to an average of 11 million files. If your employees are not trained on how to appropriately identify and handle threats, then your organization is extremely vulnerable. Employees need cybersecurity training to protect themselves and the organization against attacks, botnet or not. By making employees aware of different kinds of botnet attacks and what procedures to follow when a threat is detected, you’re strengthening the most vulnerable links in the chain.

How SecurityScorecard can help

Botnets are difficult to stop once they’ve penetrated and taken root in users’ devices. It's important to adopt those best practices listed above to prevent botnet attacks or minimize the damage they may cause. It’s also crucial to continuously monitor your systems and networks for any security gaps that need immediate attention.

With SecurityScorecard’s Security Ratings, you can seamlessly monitor and manage across ten categories of risk: DNS health, patching cadence, web application security, information leaks, and social engineering. With a user-friendly dashboard, SecurityScorecard displays the most critical cyber risks for your organization, empowering your team to prioritize remediation efforts in case of a botnet attack. Request a free instant security score and get started today.

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