In the world of cybersecurity, bots are the foot soldiers of malicious parties, laying siege to your servers. While bots are put to use in many situations for good reasons—such as search engine crawlers—the chances of an unexpected torrent of bot traffic flooding your servers for a non-malicious reason are practically non-existent.
Bots can be used to scrape public data from your website, test a list of username and password combinations from security breaches, steal voucher code balances, and any number of other nefarious activities.
Unfortunately, the damage doesn’t stop with what the bots are there to do, the very fact that bots are being used against your servers can degrade the quality of service your customers are getting, even when Denial of Service is not the intent.
How Does Bot Traffic Affect Service?
While the infamous “series of tubes” comment about what the Internet is was, of course, wildly inaccurate, it does serve as a good analogy for this particular problem.
If you imagine that the Internet was a series of tubes, and data was a physical substance traveling through those tubes, there is only a limited amount of space for that substance to pass through. If too much is trying to get through at once, the tubes become clogged, and everything slows down.
The reality of the Internet is a little more complicated, of course, but the basic idea is the same—too many requests to access a server at one time will result in slow or failed connections, which is why a deluge of bot traffic is bad for business, even you are adequately protected against the specific thing the bots have come there to do.
How to Stop Bot Traffic?
Knowing your enemy is a big part of the solution. Or, to put it another way, to stop bot traffic, you need to be able to separate it out from legitimate traffic. You could of course, just shut down your servers when you detect bot traffic, but that would also shut out the legitimate traffic you want to be able to access your server. With that in mind, here are some of the most effective ways to stop bot traffic from bringing your servers to a crawl.
It should be noted that there is no such thing as a perfect solution that can stop all bot traffic without inconveniencing legitimate visitors to your site or service. The aim of the game is mitigation—blocking enough bots to make it manageable.
Use Third-Party Bot Mitigation Services
There was a time when companies reached a level of size and success that they would be forced to create endless departments to handle all of the different aspects of running a business that size, including things like cybersecurity.
The advances in connectivity and data speeds over the years have allowed for many of these services to move away from the companies that use them, and into the hands of specialists who do nothing but that specific task.
They can more effectively handle bot traffic but it is all they do, allowing your business to focus on what you do.
Block Known Proxy Sites and Bot Hosting Services
It is impossible to know the intentions of every connection request you get, and things like botnets make it impossible to block every bot without risking blocking potential customers. However, there are certain services that are notorious for being used for these purposes.
Granted, they can be used for legitimate purposes, but they are not Internet service providers, so none of those legitimate services should bring traffic to your service.
Use CAPTCHA or Other Verification Methods
CAPTCHA may not be an ironclad defense against bots, but it can certainly weed out a large portion of them. By requiring the user to perform certain visual tasks in order to complete a request, the vast majority of bots would be exposed, while the tasks would be little more than a minor inconvenience to legitimate, human users.
CAPTCHA can also be used conditionally, such as when you have reason to suspect a user may be a bot, rather than at every connection request. This would still prevent a lot of bot traffic, but limit the inconvenience to your legitimate traffic.
Block Outdated Browsers
Bots have to represent themselves as something they are not to do what they do. This isn’t particularly difficult, but it does require updating, which happens surprisingly infrequently with bots.
By automatically blocking connection attempts from browsers that have passed beyond end-of-life support, you will be able to weed out a significant portion of bot users. You may catch some legitimate traffic with this tactic, but, if you limit the blocks to browsers and versions that are no longer supported, you shouldn’t block too many real users. It can also be argued that they represent a security risk themselves if they let their browser get that out of date.
Protect all Access Points
When it comes to bot traffic, it’s natural to just think about websites. These days, however, there are far more ways to connect to a service, such as through an app, or an API.
Whatever methods you employ to mitigate bot traffic, make sure you apply them to all the ways your servers can be accessed, as security breaches through an API are just as dangerous as security breaches through a website.
If you see sudden surges in traffic, investigate. They could be legitimate traffic surges, such as a piece of marketing going viral and driving customers to your website, but they could also be bot traffic.
While there are limited situations where high volumes of bot traffic can be innocuous—such as intentional stress-testing of a website or service—any unexpected surge of this kind of traffic is almost certainly going to be bad.
While you can’t stop it in its entirety, you can take various steps to mitigate the effect this kind of traffic has. That being said, dedicated services for protecting your servers against bot traffic will nearly always be more effective than any kind of “in-house” solution.
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