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Lorena C Silva for Vaultree

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Botnets: How they work and how to protect yourself

The internet becomes a sea of opportunities, but for malicious hackers the opportunities turn out to be good. With the advance of technology botnets become more and more usable, especially to steal data that is scattered without any security.


As cybersecurity threats evolve, advanced persistent threats (APTs) are getting more common. An APT is a sophisticated attack in which an non-authorised party accesses a network to steal sensitive data over a prolonged period of time. They're usually carefully planned and designed to crack existing protection measures adopted by an organisation and, as they're led by automated bots, it might be harder to identify and track.

Many organisations are strengthening their cybersecurity strategy, shifting from a responsive to a preventive approach.

Implementation

We know that antivirus software is not as efficient as it should be, but if you are no longer using it, there is a chance that your company/personal computer has been compromised by malicious software. Automation allows botnets to grow exponentially and silently.

However, a few aspects might delay overnight automation, such as:

  • Lack of confidence in technology
  • Loss of control
  • Fear of change

However, despite its barriers, automation offers the ability to track incoming attacks step by step, providing the highest level of protection possible.

Automated systems are designed to be extremely predictable, so any actions that are executed as "safe" are indeed, safe. At least for a while. Using this tool on a daily basis helps to recognise any security vulnerabilities or gaps that can be both identified and corrected, before a possible cyberattack - thus making it easier to control the system. Not to mention, it's a strong measure to avoid human errors, one of the main reasons or explanations for how strong companies still get their data stolen.

Advantages for cybercriminals

If not implemented carefully, automation can become a cybercriminal's best friend. Botnets are powerful, and can easily generate fraudulent transactions from many different computers worldwide, and at the same time. That means it's quite a challenge to recognise fraud patterns through traditional speed checks.

To give an example, denial-of-service (DoS) attacks are a kind of cyber-attack in which the attacker makes a machine or network resource unavailable to its intended users by temporarily or indefinitely disrupting the services of a host connected to a network. Nowadays, as techniques evolve, there are even more sophisticated ransomware threats.

The fact that botnets are so persistent means that they've easily become a very valuable commodity among cybercriminals, who usually spend a lot of time building them.

How are computers infected?

Providers of antivirus software are not enough to combat the malware present on the Internet, this is a fact that is recognised by them when a user decides to implement the software. Still, human error is still one of the easiest alternatives for a cyberattack to succeed, as people might accidentally put themselves (and their date) into suspicious behaviour. Bots are versatile and can cause damage to consumers and businesses on a large scale from anywhere in the world, at any time.

How are botnets used by cybercriminals?

  • Send unsolicited emails and/or perform phishing scams.
  • Soak up all the resources that prevent the site from receiving visitors, or even take them to an extremely similar site or fraud campaigns.
  • Capture keystrokes in the form of passwords, credit cards, logins, bank accounts and so on.

Being a part of the solution

A preventive approach is necessary to avoid bots entering your systems. Botnets grow exponentially, silently and with sophistication, and they take advantage of the weaknesses of users and companies that do not pay enough attention to security, or that do not own a unified solution to protect each user, device and application.

For those who use OT environments, it is interesting to add tools designed to protect, detect and respond to threats in real-time. This type of operating system causes great fragility in the system because it is very exposed. In the case of Windows systems, maintaining system updates or adding connectivity via Yubikey or even satellite, for those who are willing to invest more.

To find system weaknesses, you have to think like a malicious hacker. Implementing system analysis can allow previously untested security issues to be identified, after which you can also focus on AI capabilities to block attacks during initial reconnaissance efforts.

It is always a good time to rely on top-notch tech to protect your data - and your business - from irreversible damage. Better safe than sorry is definitely the motto of anyone interested in keeping their data protected.


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