Every business operating in today’s online economy needs to offer customers seamless access to their internal services. However, the more digital doors we open to our corporate networks, the higher the risk of compromise. Hackers leveraging sophisticated techniques are continuously improving their attacks. Using a variety of automated tools, even the lesser skilled among them is capable of wreaking digital havoc.
One of the more complex and powerful tools at a hacker’s disposal are web robots or “smart” bots. These software applications can interact with other systems and users without any human intervention. This automated capability makes them a potent weapon in the hacker’s arsenal as it gives them the ability to launch attacks on a large scale. Bots are not new to the digital world, and not every bot is malicious. Like every other tool, their handler defines their purpose leveraging their capabilities for good or evil.
What Are Bots?
Bots automate a repeatable process based on a set of predefined rules. If you look long enough, you can find them everywhere. Modern bots post content on social media and interact with you via a chat app on a website. They increase efficiency and improve productivity by performing repeatable tasks allowing their masters to focus on other activities. Hackers utilize this functionality to expand the reach and effectiveness of their attacks. By leveraging a bot army, a malicious attacker can target hundreds or even thousands of organizations simultaneously using automation and orchestration for malicious purposes.
The use of “smart” bots against corporate networks is on the increase with enterprises experiencing more than 500 bot attacks each day. They typically target web applications, mobile apps, and APIs, as these entry points are effectively the soft underbelly of any network. Whether they exist on-premise or in the cloud, misconfigured services give hackers a way to bypass firewalls and infiltrate your corporate environment. Leveraging this unauthorized access, malicious attackers can then perform a variety of nefarious activities. They can take over user accounts, steal data, induce a denial of service, or use your corporate IT resources to launch an attack on other organizations.
Another major cause for concern is the fact that detecting bot infiltrations can take time, exposing the organization and its systems to long-term malicious activities. With the average detection and mitigation for these types of infections being more than 96 hours, hackers can cause an enormous amount of damage during that period. Bot remediation is also an expensive exercise. The cost for each IT security team to deal with these types of attacks exceeds an average of $175,000 per year.
How Do Bots Infiltrate a Network?
A bot is essentially a piece of software. Hackers leverage bots by transforming otherwise innocuous code into weaponized malicious software. Like any other type of malware, there are numerous techniques bots leverage to obtain unauthorized access to a network.
Using social engineering techniques, they can infect an enterprise environment via malicious email attachments sent to unsuspecting users. Another way bots can infiltrate a system is through unmanaged external storage devices such as USB thumb drives users may bring to work. Hackers also deceive users into visiting websites where they either infect their devices or mislead them into downloading and installing malicious bot software.
Although the human element may be the weakest link in the security chain, bots also use other techniques to attack and infiltrate networks. Exploiting vulnerabilities in the software that services an organization’s web application, mobile app, or API is likely the most popular method. Unpatched Internet-facing systems that have known software vulnerabilities are a prime target for a bot attack. Hackers program their bots to scour the Internet for vulnerable systems. The hacker can then sit back and wait as the bot army finds exposed systems, infects them, and then reports back to its master.
What Kind of Destruction Can They Wreak?
As bots effectively give hackers control over your network, attackers can leverage this unauthorized access for any number of nefarious activities. Exfiltrating company information via a data breach is one way bots can destroy an organization’s business and reputation. Hackers can also leverage infected networks to launch attacks against other organizations making the infected enterprise an unwilling participant in illegal activities. In some instances, hackers have even used their unauthorized access to destroy an organization’s entire business by deleting all their customer data. As the hacker has access and control to an organization’s internal IT systems, the possibilities to cause damage or destruction are virtually endless.
What Are Some of the Methods of Remediation?
Smart bots are automated software-driven services, so the best way to remediate any infection is to prevent it from occurring in the first place. Organizations should actively update their software whenever vendors release updates and implement cybersecurity awareness training for their staff. Deploying defensive technologies such as anti-malware, firewalls, intrusion detection, and intrusion prevention systems are further practical measures that can prevent bot infection. Organizations should also conduct regular vulnerability risk assessments to ensure their environment is secure and not at risk from a bot compromise.
However, no system is foolproof, and sometimes bots infiltrate environments that have the proven security measures in place. Should such an event occur, the organization should try and remedy the situation as soon as possible. First and foremost every effort needs to be expended to prevent the infection from spreading. Ensuring infected systems or networks are isolated is the best way to contain such a threat. The next step would be to disinfect the systems. This process involves running software that can identify malicious bots and remove them while ensuring they cannot reinfect their hosts. In extreme circumstances, the business may need to fall back to its disaster recovery plan, wipe their existing systems and restore them from an offline backup.
What to Do When You Are under Attack?
If a site or network is currently under attack, the first step is to remove all Internet access. Although this will prevent genuine users from accessing services, it mitigates the risk of infection or compromise. The next step would be to identify the underlying vulnerability the bot is trying to exploit. Running a security scan on the network can help identify any issues that need immediate attention. If the site or service is experiencing some form of denial of service attack, the organization needs to determine the originating IP addresses and block them via their firewall. There are also various commercial services that offer protection from large scale bot denial of service attacks.
It’s best, however, not to wait until the network is under attack to act. Contact Coranet by phone at 1-855-CORANET to learn more about how to reduce the costs and labor involved in defending your organization against bot hacks.
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