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How To Stop Bot Attacks on a Website in 2021

Did you know that just a few years back, more than 50% of internet traffic comes from bots?

While this number has improved in recent years, the amount of bot traffic in 2020 increased again by 5.7% to 41.8%. While there is traffic coming from good and beneficial bots, around a quarter of all internet traffic today comes from bad bots with malicious intent. 

What would this mean?

If you haven’t really considered planning a comprehensive anti-bot strategy and investing in the right bot management infrastructure, your whole system is exposed to a plethora of bot-related attacks: brute force, credential stuffing, DDoS, and potentially serious data breaches. 

Thinking of ways to stop bot attacks on your website but don’t know where to start? You’ve come to the right place. 

In this guide, we will discuss all you need to know about how to effectively detect and block malicious bot activities on your website, and without further ado, let us begin by discussing the basics. 

 

The Conundrums of Bot Management

With today’s technology, shouldn’t it be fairly simple to detect malicious bot activities and bot them from our website?

Turns out, it’s not that simple, and in practice, there are two very significant challenges we should consider in bot management: 

  1. Today’s bot operators are really advanced and have adopted the latest technologies, including AI and machine learning to mask the bot’s identities and to impersonate human behaviors. Even differentiating between bots and legitimate human users can be a major challenge
  2. As discussed, there are good bots that can benefit your site and business. You wouldn’t want to accidentally block, for example, Google’s crawler bots, or else your site won’t be indexed and ranked by Google. 

Thus, there’s the first conundrum. We want to detect and stop malicious bots, but we also need to avoid false positives as much as possible. 

There’s also another problem: assume we‘ve successfully detected the presence of malicious bots, now what?

At a glance, the answer might seem obvious: we’ll block it. But turns out blocking isn’t always the best option. 

When persistent attackers know that their bots are blocked, they won’t stop there. In fact, if you provide any error report while blocking the bot, they might be able to use the information you’ve provided to modify the bot to bypass your blocking system. 

Thus, there is the second conundrum: to block or not to block. 

When attempting to detect and manage the malicious bots, we should put these two conundrums into factors. 

 

How Bot Attacks Can Affect Your Site

 

1. Slowing Down Website Performance

This is not an issue exclusive to malicious bots, but unmanaged good bots can also negatively affect your website speed and performance.

When too many bots are continuously requesting information from your site, ultimately it will slow down the page’s load speed for legitimate users. Slow page speed isn’t a small issue, as 79% of surveyed consumers claimed that they wouldn’t return to a site that has performed poorly in their experiences. 

In short, even the bot’s presence can affect your customer’s experience and loyalty. 

 

2. Data Breach and Data Leak

Probably the most important negative impact of bot attacks is how they are very persistent and effective in stealing confidential and valuable data. 

Bots can also perform account takeover attacks (brute force, credential stuffing) to steal user’s accounts and the information within, as well as using the account to launch even more severe attacks. 

 

3. Fraud and Automated Attacks

For websites that serve ads, bots can click on the displayed ads and trigger fake ad clicks, which is known as click fraud attacks. It can skew the advertising cost and in a worst-case scenario, the ad network (i.e. Google Ads) might penalize and even ban your site. If your site hosts ads, you should be careful of click fraud bots. 

Similarly, if you are an eCommerce site selling products with limited inventory, you can be targeted by the inventory hoarding/scalper bots. 

How To Effectively Stop Bot Attacks and Protect Your Website

 

1. Configure your robots.txt file

The robots.txt file is a small text file that provides rules and instructions for bots when they are crawling your website. 

Good bots will follow the rules set by robots.txt, but malicious bots will not. So, this approach is more about managing good bots rather than stopping bad bots from affecting your site. 

 

2. Blocking Known Signatures

Another important approach to stopping bot attacks is to block known malicious bots from entering your site, for example via IP address blacklisting. You can use filtering tools, such as a Web Application Firewall (WAF) for this purpose. 

We can also use various tools to block bots with advanced signatures, such as signs of headless browsers, inconsistent OS/browser claims, and so on.

This approach, however, won’t be effective in blocking sophisticated bots that can mask their signatures. Very sophisticated bots, for example, can rotate between thousands of IP addresses while performing nonlinear mouse movements and other humanlike behaviors. 

 

3. Advanced Bot Management Solution

The easiest and most effective approach to stop bot attacks and malicious bot traffic is by using an advanced bot management solution. 

Advanced bot management solutions leverage AI and machine learning technologies to perform behavioral-based analysis (as opposed to fingerprinting-based analysis discussed above), which is more effective in differentiating between bot activities and legitimate users, as well as between good bots and bad bots. 

You should also look for solutions like DataDome that can work on autopilot so it won’t need any human supervision and intervention in protecting your system. Thus, your security team can focus elsewhere. 

 

Conclusion

While bot attacks can be quite challenging to defend against and protecting our website from various cybersecurity threats can be daunting, it doesn’t mean there aren’t effective ways we can use to protect our website and system. 

Above all, it’s crucial to invest in an adequate bot management solution that is capable of behavioral analysis to effectively stop bot attacks while avoiding false positives. 

 

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