Throughout 2020, 25.6 percent of all website traffic comes from bad bot traffic, increasing by 6.2 percent from 2019. Let it sink for a moment, more than a quarter of total internet traffic comes from bad bots with malicious intent.
So many businesses across virtually all industries are affected by bad bot traffic in a wide variety of cybersecurity threats: account takeover using brute force and credential stuffing attacks, content/data scraping, credit card frauds, and more.
This is why stopping bot traffic is now an important concern for many businesses and even individuals, and in this article, we will learn how.
What Is Bot Traffic?
We can technically label any non-human traffic to a website as “bot traffic”.Yet, what actually is a bot?
A bot, or to be more accurate, an internet bot, is a computer program that is designed to automatically execute processes over the internet. “Automate” being the keyword, a bot should be able to execute its intended task without any human intervention.
Typically these bots are programmed to execute relatively simple and repeatable tasks, although there are advanced bots that perform complex processes. However, another key distinction is that these bots are capable of executing these tasks at a much faster rate than any human user.
While the term bot traffic often carries a negative connotation, it’s crucial to understand that a bot is in its essence, a tool, and isn’t inherently good or bad. It’s how these bots are used that would determine whether they are good or bad bots.
Good Bot Traffic VS Bad Bot Traffic
Good bots are owned/operated by legitimate individuals or businesses. They won’t hide their identities and will follow the instructions and policies for bots implemented by the site/app via robots.txt instructions.
Most importantly, these bots are designed to perform beneficial tasks, including:
- Crawler or spider: these bots are designed to crawl websites to index and review their content. Crawl bots operated by Google, Bing, and other search engines are examples of crawler bots.
- Site monitoring: bots from services like Google Analytics or Cloudfare, for example, monitor the website’s traffic and activities and will share the gathered information with website owners.
- Copyright bots: these bots crawl platforms looking for sites that display copyrighted content and check for possible violations.
- Chatbot: popular type of good but at the moment, can engage in conversations with human users and answer inquiries and questions.
There are various other types of good bots, each designed for different processes.
Bad bots, or malicious bots, on the other hand, are owned and operated by hackers and cybercriminals to perform various malicious tasks, including but not limited to:
- Web scraping: in principle works similar to a crawler, but the operator will use the gathered data for malicious means, for example republishing the content on other websites.
- Click fraud: generating false clicks on a page (i.e. on an advertising banner) so it will increase the cost of the advertising campaign (or generate revenue for ad publishers)
- Scalping/Inventory hoarding: swiftly and repeatedly holding in-demand products in online shopping carts so the products go out of stock for legitimate shoppers.
- Account takeover (ATO) attacks: performing brute force and/or credential stuffing attacks to gain access to user accounts and steal information, as well as using the account to perform various types of attacks.
- Vulnerability scanning: performing automated tests to discover a website or system’s security weaknesses.
- Spam: submitting false forms, spam comments on social media posts and conversations, etc.
- DDoS: Distributed Denial of Service, referring to how a lot of bots generate a coordinated, massive amount of requests to a website, which will significantly slow down the website or crash it completely.
How To Stop Bot Traffic: Effective Methods
Create and Configure robots. txt file
Any anti-bot management strategy should begin by creating and properly configuring a robots.txt file.
The robots.txt is a simple document file, live on a web page, that contains instructions and rules that should be followed by bots when entering the page. These instructions include which pages can be crawled, and which can’t.
While sophisticated bad bots will not follow the instructions set in your robots.txt file, it’s still crucial to properly configure the file especially to manage good bots when accessing your resources.
You can configure tools and solutions like Web Application Firewall (WAF) to block or rate-limit abusive bot traffic with known signatures/fingerprints like traffic originating from certain IP addresses, the presence of headless browsers, inconsistent OS/browser claims, and more.
This approach also will not stop the most advanced bots that can effectively mask their identities but will stop a good portion of bad bots.
An effective approach you can use when you aren’t sure whether a client is bot traffic or a legitimate user is to challenge the client with a CAPTCHA or similar tests.
Keep in mind, however, that CAPTCHA is not a bulletproof security measure: sophisticated bots can beat the most difficult CAPTCHAs with AI technologies, and CAPTCHAs will naturally disrupt your site’s user experience. Not to mention, persistent attackers can employ the service of CAPTCHA farms to effectively bypass CAPTCHA challenges.
Still effective when used smartly and sparingly.
Advanced Bot Management Solution
The most effective, and arguably the easiest way to stop bot traffic is to install an advanced bot management solution.
An effective bot management solution capable of predictive behavioral analysis to accurately and consistently differentiate between good bot traffic and bad bot traffic.
An anti-bot solution works in real-time and on autopilot, meaning it won’t need any human supervision and intervention in blocking malicious bot traffic as soon as it enters your system.