What Is a Botnet and How Does It Affect Your Online Privacy?

Last Updated: February 3, 2021

The web is full of “pests” crawling around to compromise security. Sometimes, these pests are targeted at specific users. At other times, they are spread out randomly for a user to fall victim. An excellent example of such cyber threats is a Botnet. 

A botnet is one of the most significant malicious attacks on the internet. It is a string of maze-connected devices infected by the hacker to gain access and full control. A botnet houses the source of attacks like spam, spyware, and click fraud. A hacker can even use your device to defraud people once he gets access. Botnets are a standout danger amongst others out there on the web.

This review discusses the mechanism of action of botnets and, most importantly, how to fortify yourself (through your device) in protection against these attacks.

What is a Botnet?

“Botnet” is a coalition of two words— Robot and Network. For example, to keep a website running, a botnet can be created to connect devices set for running repetitive actions. The command programmed to the bot keeps the devices performing the set tasks, and as a result, helps run a smooth website.

The cynical use is more rampant nowadays. Hackers use it as a network of hijacked devices to execute different sorts of cybercrimes. The bots (internet robots) are used to carry out these attacks on various users. The hacker infects the bot, designs a command system for the bot’s actions, sends the bot to your device, and controls your device from their end.

Once your device gets compromised, the hacker takes full charge and can use it for a number of things, all to his advantage. There are two kinds of botnets: the centralized and decentralized models.

1. Centralized Botnet Model

In this case, the Command-and-Control (C&C) server is in charge. It controls the activity of the bots and subsequently the devices infiltrated. So, in essence, it controls the entire botnet. It is direct to set up, but it is liable to a point-source failure.

2. Decentralized Botnet Model 

This bot network model is a peer-to-peer model where the bots are not directly contacted with the C&C server. The bots share the command and information amongst themselves. This model is more challenging to implement, but it is also more recalcitrant to defend. In this model, one infected bot can easily influence the other bots and infect as many devices are open to the attack.

Set up in either of the two models, the main goal of a botnet is to have as many devices as possible in the network and compel them to perform automated procedures. Most times, a user cannot tell if his device has been infected, but he might see little signs that might seem trivial. For targeted hijacks, on the other hand, it could go as bad as the user losing control over his device.

An excellent example of how a botnet works is a fraudulent traffic generation project. In this case, the bot infects the device but doesn’t take full charge, just so the user doesn’t notice quickly. As a result, it uses a small portion of your online activity to generate traces of traffic for the hacker’s target ads. The traffic generated will not be noticeable by the user, but the hacker is doing that for tens to hundreds of thousands of other devices. The aggregation of those traces of traffic will result in a massive end product for his ad fraud.

How Does a Botnet Affect You and Your Security Online?

Botnets used to be available on a small scale, but with the evolution of the internet, there has been an explosion in the range of attacks and sophistication employed by these hackers. Generally, the extent to which a botnet causes damage depends on its magnitude. The more resources in the number of bots and coding mechanics provide the hacker with more points to attack and more potency.

A botnet can affect you either directly or indirectly. Let’s examine both cases

1. Direct impact

The direct impact of botnets can range from data and identity theft to device hijacking. Almost everyone, if not all, stores sensitive information (such as passwords, bank details, and identity details, amongst others) on their devices. If the device gets compromised, the hacker can steal such information and log into your social media accounts, empty your bank account, or even put you in trouble by defrauding another person with your device. A much more heavy impact can be felt; the victim might completely lose control of the device. In that case, the device will then be under the total control of the hacker.

2. Indirect impact

For the less direct and consequential impact, cyber crooks can use botnets to introduce Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks through your device and even use your device to send spam emails. DDoS attacks are aimed at overloading a website with traffic much more than its server can accommodate. Hackers often use this to overwhelm a rival’s site.

In a social engineering attempt, the cybercriminal composes convincing emails and sends to numerous recipients to obtain private information or scam them to send money. If, by any means, the fraud is traced, you will be the victim because your device was compromised.

When a botnet infiltrates your device, it could hijack it and demand a ransom. Thus, a hacker might dive his way into your device and request payment to free your device. To avoid having to deal with any of the impacts, it’s best to guard one’s device and block every entrance, a botnet might come in through.

How to Protect Yourself From Botnets

It is easy for an individual small-scale botnet attack to go unnoticed because it uses only a small portion of the device’s traffic. Most times, the device continues to work normally, so there might not be any cause for panic as the malware continues to do its fraudulence.

However, botnets can be prevented or eliminated if your device has already been infiltrated. There are simple precautionary actions one could take to prepare a device (be it a PC, mobile phone, or a tablet) against these malware attacks.

1. Identify the problem

The very first thing to do to solve a problem is to recognize the problem. A security platform that detects the presence of malware and uninstalls it should be on top of your bucket list. Look out for top antivirus software.

2. Install device updates regularly

When you know your opponent, you can attack via its weak points. Hackers are quick to design programs to exploit your device via its weak points. To counter that effect, it’s recommended that you update your device’s OS as soon as there’s a new security upgrade.

3. Do not download from unknown sources

As a precautionary measure, be careful not to download attachments or click links from unknown emails. It might be malware or spam from a hacker somewhere like we’ve discussed previously in this article.

4. Install a firewall 

The firewall will keep out unauthorized access, hence protecting your computer against potential botnets. Mac computers usually have a firewall already installed on them, but if you own a Windows computer, you’ll have to download and install firewall software. Anyways, make sure you have a firewall while you browse the internet.

5. Steer clear of untrusted websites

When you browse, cybercriminals place attractive ads and pop-ups on your path. Behind those ads might be malware. Also, avoid downloading free versions of applications from untrusted websites. You might be installing malware to your device indirectly.

Conclusion

Botnets are a significant link to most forms of cybercrimes in our world today. If you take the preventive and safety measures highlighted in this article, you shouldn’t be susceptible to any malware attack. Botnets tend to attack less guarded devices because they’re easier to infiltrate. So, protect your device.

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