Web Marketing

Tech - Web Marketing
By: - at May 14, 2013

How Web Bot Malware Activity Can Harm Your Website

One reason why business owners design websites is to advertise their products and services, as well as to create brand awareness. For this to be achieved, traffic has to be generated. However, there are challenges that website owners face when generating and converting traffic into sales. One of these problems can come from web bot activity. Bot activities can do more harm than good to a lot of website owners.

spam elminating bot

In order to examine how bot activities can impact the performance of websites, it is imperative to understand what a bot is.

What is a web bot?
A bot is a malware program that executes tasks of a repetitive nature within computer networks or websites for a good or bad intent. There are the so called neutral or friendly bots, which may not contain malicious software that causes problems. Likewise, there are bots embedded with malicious codes that are used to execute fraudulent activities within computers, networks, and websites such as stealing information and sending phishing emails.

web bot

Bots are not easily detectable and this is because they do not show any visible signs when they infect your computer or crawl your website. This is one thing that differentiates them from the typical intruders like Trojans, worms, and viruses that attack computers and networks. Therefore, users are unlikely to detect the presence of bot activity until an alarm is raised such as abnormal website traffic, overages of internet bandwidth, and poor website performance including longer load times.

In addition, bots can also automatically update themselves whereby they add new functional features and correct defects. The bots can be used to profit the designers of the programs such as lending the software to networks that use bots to carry out the sending of phishing emails. The designers may also benefit from selling personal information that is harvested or stolen by the bots.

What is bot traffic?
Bot traffic is the number of visits or hits that a website receives from bot programs. Bots are common with search engines as they crawl and read web pages.

web crawler

Bot hits are also executed with ill-intend to copy web content, show advertisement illegally on your website or steal confidential information. Today, social media sites like Twitter and Facebook deliver bot traffic to websites.

When is bot traffic useful?
Not all bots are bad and in fact, there are genuine bots that come from search engines like Google and Bing and these can help add value to your website’s SEO. Some website owners accept these bots on their web pages in order to help in ranking and indexing their websites to search engines. Before a website is indexed and ranked by search engines, its pages are visited and crawled by robots or bots.

The dark side of web bot activities
network security concept
Bot activities are causing a threat to website owners and the big challenge is that identifying these robots is not easy. In addition, it requires specialized tools such as bot traps to identify and block the activities of these robots. Malicious bots harm your website in different ways including:

  • Illegally scraping your website content and republishing it
  • Sending nuisance mails or spam mails
  • Executing network or computer attacks such as DoS
  • Infecting networks
  • Spying and stealing information

Malicious bots can steal your website content and copy the content illegally to their own web pages. Search engines will then list the pages created out of your web content and thus deny you the ability for your site to be indexed based on unique content. Bots are also known for sending spam mails that can number in thousands or millions. The bot programs use the infected computers as their host from where they execute their activities.

Through a network of bots or BOTNET, thousands of emails can be sent using a series of infected computers in the network. In a single infected computer, only a few mails are sent and this is one way to keep the computer owner from realizing that bot-related mails are being dispatched from his or her computer.

Bots can also paralyze the operations of web servers by dispatching a pack of data that sends a server into crashing or inoperable. These are commonly known as DoS attacks. A bot can also harvest information from an infected computer and send it to an external computer. Such information could entail passwords, credit card numbers, identification or ID number, keyboard operation history, and email addresses that are contained in the address book of the email reader.

How bots affect performance of websites
There is a correlation between a website's performance and user-experience. Bots can execute tasks that could affect the performance of websites and hence the user experience. Even with the friendly bot activities, they can execute bot traffic hits, which could overwhelm a website. What happens is that a server processing unit can receive thousands of bot traffic hits and this overloads the network capacity thus slowing down the performance of the website.

bots can be damaging to the performance of a web site

If a larger part of a server processing capacity is taken up by bot requests, it means that human visitors experience a downfall of the site. This creates a bad user experience. A good example is a case where an ecommerce website that has customers checking out payments in shopping carts, are not able to complete the payment process because the system is just too slow. This may result to payments bouncing away and other visitors unable to access the shopping carts. This is how businesses lose money from the burden created by bot traffic hits.

In addition, bots are capable of consuming internet bandwidth at very fast rates. What this means is that website owners are likely to experience downtimes created by overuse of their bandwidth and especially the small and medium sized businesses that have limited bandwidth allocations in their webhosting packages.

Moreover, bot traffic can crash servers when they gain access to thousands of pages than the server can deliver at any one given time. One bot can very quickly access and crawl over thousands of web pages in just one minute and this keeps website visitors waiting for connections because the pages cannot load as desired. Therefore, if several websites in one server are infected with bot software, they can create a Denial-Of-Service (DoS) attack situation that can make the entire server inaccessible. Such bot activities affect website owners because the websites are either closed because of consuming their bandwidth too fast or they are locked from using the server because of abuse of server network resources. Although bot activity may not be the fault of the website owner, it can affect the visibility of the site on the internet and thus deal a blow to the business growth.

Why is it difficult to detect web bot activity?
Bot programs cannot be easily detected because they execute their tasks secretly when they have infected your website or computer network. They can crawl your web pages without running a browser. Bots do not need to render images or execute JavaScript when accessing your web pages. They have the ability to crawl through the raw HTML part of document without running a real browser. Therefore, bot traffic may not be easily detected in a website because the traffic analytics tools cannot recognize the presence of most bot activity.

raw html website code

Browsers like explorer, Firefox, opera, and chrome are designed with JavaScript snippets that run automatically when visitors are using them to view websites. With these browsers, they also execute CSS, render images, and other tasks that make a website behave like it is being visited by a human. However, for bot activity, it does not need to execute the JavaScript snippet and this means that some requests to view content are not triggered such as rendering images.

How can you detect bots in your computers?
There are various things which bot-removing experts look at to determine if there are bot programs executing tasks from your computer. Most bots do not download images on a website and this is because they are only interested with the text or html part of the page. When a browser does not request for images, this may signify that it could be a bot activity crawling your web page.

Bots also access web pages at light-speed and this is atypical to human crawling ability. This is another element that bot-removing technicians look at. Bots can crawl through pages at very high speeds and this is why they are able to visit thousands of pages in a minute. Although there are straight-forward signs that may show your computer is infected with a bot such as failed mail deliveries, which you did not send in the first place, at other times, it requires critically analyzing the behavior of your website and computer networks.

In addition, failed mail deliveries you did not send may not mean that your computer is already infected with bots. This is because your email address could only have been set as the bounced mails delivery address where undelivered mails are directed by internet intruders. This is a gimmick used by criminals carrying out malicious bot activities so that they remain anonymous and undetected.

How can you get rid of bots on your computers?
In order to remove bot infections from your computer or network, it needs to be identified. Bot activities can be dealt with in different ways and the most common ones are IP blocking and throttling.

I. Remove Web Bots Via IP blocking
When individual bots are identified, they are kept off the website by blocking the IP channels from where the bots are gaining access to your network or website. You can use the firewall service to block those IP addresses. The other way in which bots are eliminated from your website or computer network is by throttling.

wifi bot

II. Bot Removal Through Throttling
This is a technique which places a limit on the number of times a web visitor, whether human or bot-related visitor can hit or visit your web pages. Because bot activities tend can carry out numerous web visits at one time, throttling helps detect and block such bot hits and this can help prevent further visits on the site by such internet robot malware. Throttling can help reduce the muscling of web servers by bot activities, something that affects performance of websites. This method sets a limit on the number of times, which one visitor can visit or hit a web page. This is targeted to block bot activities, which in most cases tend to show abnormally high visits to a website at one time.

So now you know that humans aren't the only ones browsing the web, as bots have the capability to do more advanced crawling than even humans can do.  Understanding bots is important for webmasters and people running web servers.  Without bots we would not have search engines.  But we need to be aware of the negative things that bots can do to us, and take action whenever malicious bots strike.





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