CYBER SECURITY | 6 MIN READ
Botnets are a form of malware that poses threats to businesses and individuals alike. Keep reading to learn what a botnet is, how it works, and cyber security tips to avoid becoming a victim.
[Quick Summary] A botnet is a form of malware that involves an inter-connected network of hacked computers that lead back to a centralized computer controlled by a cyber criminal, who can then easily deploy cyber attacks to the entire network.
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What is a Botnet?
Bots are automated processes designed to infect a victim's device and connect it back to a central system called a botnet.
Like worms, bots can self-reproduce, but bots are more advanced because they can capture more information, such as keystrokes and passwords. Bots can also open back doors to a network by creating security holes that let other types of malware into a network.
A botnet is a form of malware that involves an inter-connected network of hacked computers that lead back to a centralized computer controlled by a cyber criminal, who can then easily deploy cyber attacks to the entire network.
Once botnets establish a web of connected and infected devices, it can send out broad, "remote control-based" attacks to its entire network. Botnets are dangerous because they enable a cyber criminal to automate widespread cyber attacks that cover anywhere from thousands to millions of devices with ease.
How Do Botnets Work?
Before a botnet can be utilized to execute widespread commands, it must first be built. To construct a botnet, one must first exploit a vulnerability to gain access to a victim's device. This can be done by finding security gaps in websites or software, or embedding malware-laden links into websites that victims then unknowingly click on.
Once a device is hacked, it is infected with a particular strain of malware that can be used to connect the device back to the central botnet server. Once all the devices within a botnet network are connected back to the creator, they can begin deploying commands and executing attacks.
When a botnet is set up, it can:
- Monitor the end user’s online activities
- Steal the end user’s personal data
- Search for vulnerabilities in other devices
- Read and write system data
- Install and run applications
How Do Botnets Pose a Threat?
Typically, a botnet is created to earn money, steal sensitive data, or harm a business' reputation. However, sometimes botnets are created simply to wreak havoc.
Once your device is connected to a botnet, a cyber criminal can take a host of negative actions, such as:
- Personal data theft — Personal data such as credit card numbers and insurance information can be stolen to commit financial or identity fraud, or can be used to extort money from the victim by threatening to sell the data to other criminals.
- Device access sales — Access to a victim's device can be sold to cyber criminals, who can then use this access to carry out cyber attacks or steal sensitive data.
- DDOS (Distributed Denial-of-Service) attacks — A victim's device can be effectively taken offline and rendered useless by overloading its bandwidth.
- Cryptocurrency mining — A victim's device can be used to mine cryptocurrency by using their processing power.
What Devices Can Be Targeted?
Technically, any Internet-connected device can be attacked and connected to a botnet, which means that the potential scope of a botnet attack is quite large.
Devices that can be targeted for a botnet include:
- Mobile devices (ie. smartphones)
- Internet of Things (IoT) devices (ie. smartwatches)
- Internet infrastructure (ie. WiFi routers)
- Network-connected copiers/printers
Because the potential scope of a botnet attack is massive, individuals and businesses alike need to take every precaution necessary to secure all their devices, especially ones whose security is typically overlooked, such as smartwatches.
Other Types of Malware
Ransomware is a form of malware that encrypts personal or company data and holds it for ransom. Hackers then will threaten to publish, destroy or sell the information on the dark web if their monetary demands are not met.
Once your device is infected with ransomware, some or all of the files on it are encrypted, making them inaccessible or un-readable by the victim.
To unlock their files, a victim must first pay the hacker a ransom, which is usually demanded in the form of Bitcoin, an online e-currency that facilitates anonymous payments. As of recently, ransomware has been used to target large organizations such as the City of Atlanta.
RELATED: How Does Ransomware Work? [Infographic]
Viruses function like their biological counterparts by latching onto "clean files" in your computer, infecting those, and then moving onto the next.
Computer viruses cannot be spread without human interaction, which means that, for instance, if a file containing a virus was on your computer, your computer wouldn't become infected unless you opened the file.
Viruses can quickly spread to other computers when people unknowingly share virus-loaded files to each other.
A worm is a type of virus, but the difference is that worms can spread without any human action needed. Worms can quickly multiply and spread, which can magnify the damage done. For instance, a worm could make thousands of copies of itself and send those copies to everyone in your contact list.
Within a company, worms can be especially devastating for how quickly they can spread from computer to computer in a network since all the computers are inter-connected.
A Trojan is a program whose purpose is similar to the Trojan horse story from ancient Greece. In the ancient story, the Greeks stuffed a giant wooden horse with soldiers and presented it as an innocent gift to the city of Troy, whom they were at war with.
The city's residents, not knowing about the soldiers in the horse, took the horse inside the city, past its protective walls. Once inside the city, the soldiers jumped out of the horse and stormed the walls from the inside, opening the gates and letting their comrades in to take over the city.
Similar to this story, a Trojan is an innocent-looking program that, when downloaded, opens a virtual "back door" in your device's security, allowing malware to come in and infect it. Like viruses, Trojans require human interaction to spread.
Trojans are also known to wreak havoc on your computer by causing pop-up windows, deleting files, stealing data, etc.
Adware uses information it has collected on you, such as your Internet browsing history, to serve you targeted advertisements. Though adware is relatively harmless, it can be a nuisance because it can slow down your computer or cause a lot of pop-ups ads.
However, by breaking through your security to gather information on you, adware can potentially create a security gap that allows other more harmful versions of malware into your network.
Botnet Cyber Security Tips
Invest in the Right Software
If you want to invest in a solid foundational malware solution, consider downloading anti-malware and content filtering software. Anti-malware software is designed to recognize and remove malware threats from your network.
One way that anti-malware software recognizes threats is by searching for snippets of code that it deems suspicious. When this code is recognized, the software flags it.
Another way that anti-malware software detects threats is by recognizing code that attempts abnormal behavior. For instance, a snippet of code that attempts to gain administrator rights to your computer without asking for your permission could be flagged.
Different versions of anti-malware software exist for home or business use. Depending on what you need it for, you can tailor anti-malware to fit your needs.
Content and web filtering software can also assist in blocking malware threats. This software can be tailored to restrict Internet access so users cannot use inappropriate websites that may contain malware, such as illegal movie streaming sites.
Educate Employees About Cyber Security
Educating employees about cyber security starting from when they're hired helps to build a company culture around the importance of cyber security. You could have a process as simple as an educational pamphlet that the new hire has to read and take a test about during the first week of their employment.
Creating a monthly company cyber security newsletter can serve as an informative and engaging way to constantly educate your employees about the latest cyber security threats as well as serve as a way to share tips on staying safe online.
Another engaging way to see how educated your employees are about cyber security is to utilize penetration testing. Penetration testing is a fake phishing attack that aims to see which employees fall for the attack by clicking on fake links or downloading fake files.
If employees fall for these phishing attempts then you can send them through cyber security training, again. We recommend conducting these tests quarterly.
Conduct a Network Assessment
To better secure your network, we recommend conducting a thorough audit of your network infrastructure quarterly to identify security gaps and build a roadmap to better network security.
This process, also known as a network assessment, can also identify processes that are putting your business at risk of non-compliance with data privacy regulations. Corporate network assessments involve evaluating:
- Hardware and software settings− Look for any security settings that are inefficient or processes that could be putting your network at risk
- Security management protocol− If you have internal employees managing your network security, check to identify operational inefficiencies that could possible lead to security threats not being promptly identified and mitigated.
- Backup processes− Determine how often data is backed up, where it is backed up too, and if this process has been automated to remove the possibility of human error.
If you are a business that wishes to conduct a thorough network assessment and doesn't know where to start, a Managed Service Provider can help.
Avoid Suspicious Links and Websites
Many websites can contain malware-ridden links and attachments that one must know how to navigate. Knowing some basic rules about how to safely navigate the Internet can help you avoid having your computer infected with malware.
To start, if a website sounds too good to be true, then you probably shouldn't trust it. For instance, websites offering free tools or software that are usually expensive are likely to contain malware links.
Another way that hackers easily spread malware attacks is through a term called phishing. In a phishing attack, a hacker will email a victim a malware-infected link. These phishing emails will look and feel genuine, tricking many into clicking on the link.
For instance, a hacker trying to access a company's HR portal might email them posing as Microsoft, telling them to click the link to verify their credentials.
If you're wary about trusting a link that seems to be from a company that you have an account with, such as Microsoft, try accessing the web page described in the email by going to the actual website itself without clicking the link.
Cyber attacks can cause network downtime, which costs your company money every minute. They can also cause a host of other problems, ranging from the risk of data breach lawsuits to loss of company reputation if sensitive information is published.
Don't wait until you're attacked to improve your cyber security. Use the tips outlined in this article to protect your devices from cyber criminals.
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