Bot traffic, in a nutshell, is any traffic not made by legitimate human users to a website, typically performed by automated programs/software, or, bots.
Bots, in a nutshell, are programs that automatically perform simple but repetitive tasks. These bots can perform the tasks much quicker than a human can manage, also, they won’t make errors and little mistakes humans often make when performing repetitive tasks at a fast pace.
The thing is, although the term bots are now more synonymous with malicious activities done by hackers, there are actually good bots circulating on the internet that can be beneficial for the website and its user. Googlebot, for example, crawls and indexes various websites so they can be featured and ranked on Google search. It is obviously beneficial for most, if not all websites.
However, there are indeed bad bots that are solely designed for malicious intents, and traffic from these bots is the one we’re looking to stop.
How Bad Bots Can Damage Your Site
There are actually many different types of malicious bots, each with their own ‘specialization’ in damaging your site or system.
However, there are five most dangerous bad bots you’ll need to pay extra attention to:
- Scraper bots
Scraper bots, as the name suggests, perform web or content scraping on your site, a practice of saving your content/files you’ve published on your site at a very fast pace. While web scraping by itself isn’t illegal and is considered a grey area of cybercrime, it can lead to other damaging activities like posting your content elsewhere (creating duplicate content issues) or leaking hidden and sensitive information to your competitor or to the public, damaging your competitive advantage.
- Click bots
These bots are designed to make fraudulent clicks on online ads, which will skew the amount cost of advertising. For web publishers and advertisers running PPC models, this can be a very threatening bot.
- Spy bots
This type of bad bots ‘spy’ for sensitive data and information like financial data, personal information like email addresses, and so on.
- Download bots
Similar in principle to click bots, but instead of adding click count, they add fake download count. For example, it can download free ebooks from websites, which will skew the website’s conversion data.
As the name suggests, these bots ‘spam’ for unwanted and often dangerous content. They can, for example, spam links to fraudulent websites running scams, perform phishing/social engineering attacks, etc. They can also ruin your site’s SEO performance if you are not careful (i.e. when they spam your blog’s comment section with fraudulent links).
Challenges In Stopping Bot Traffic
In stopping any bot traffic, there are two main challenges we have to consider:
- As mentioned, the internet is full not only with bad bots but also with good bots that can be beneficial for your website and business. We wouldn’t want to accidentally block traffic coming from these good bots.
- Malicious bots are masking themselves as legitimate human traffic, and have grown to be more sophisticated in impersonating human behaviors like making non-linear mouse movements, seemingly random typing patterns, and so on while also rotating between a lot of different IP addresses.
How Bot Management Solutions Detect Malicious Bots?
To tackle the two key challenges above, any effective bot management strategy should attempt to accurately differentiate between traffic coming from bad bots and those coming from good bots and legitimate human users. This is typically done via three possible approaches:
- Fingerprinting (static) approach: the bot management solution identifies the traffic source’s ‘fingerprints’ like browser type, OS version, IP address, and other identifiable signatures. The bot manager will then compare these with known fingerprints of malicious bots. This method is called static or passive since it can only detect malicious bots with known fingerprints.
- Challenge-based approach: in this approach, we challenge the incoming traffic via tests like a CAPTCHA so that bot traffic can’t pass this challenge. The challenges are designed so that they are easy enough for human users to solve but very difficult for bots.
- Behavioral (dynamic) approach: the bot management solution actively analyzes the activities/behaviors of the traffic to verify its identity and intent. Modern bot management software uses AI and machine-learning technologies to analyze bot traffic in real-time and determine whether it is a malicious bot.
With how newer bots are using AI technologies to impersonate randomized human behaviors, behavioral-based techniques are now deemed necessary in detecting and mitigating bot activities.
How To Effectively Stop Bot Traffic
Based on what we’ve discussed above, here are some effective strategies to stop and manage bot traffic:
- Invest in a good bot management solution
Due to the complexities and key challenges in detecting and managing bad bots, investing in good bot management software is crucial. With how sophisticated today’s malicious bots are, it’s best to get an AI-powered solution that is capable of real-time behavioral analysis to defend against the most sophisticated malicious bots.
We’d recommend DataDome, which is capable of real-time AI-based analysis to automatically detect and mitigate bad bot activities in autopilot. So, you can simply set up DataDome and it will perform all the bot management efforts by itself without needing your intervention.
- Monitor everything regularly
You should monitor the following metrics to check for potential bot activities:
- Traffic spikes: sudden and unexplained spike in traffic is a common sign of bot activities. You should, however, consider exceptions like when you are launching a new product on your site.
- Bounce rate: similar to the above, a sudden spike in bounce rate is also a common sign of bot activities. Bots tend to leave your site after they’ve performed their ‘tasks’, and they typically won’t visit another page, unlike human visitors.
- Traffic sources: repetitive requests from a single source/IP address is a very clear sign of malicious bot traffic. While experienced attackers won’t make this mistake, this can help in detecting less sophisticated hackers.
- Failed login attempts: an increase of failed login attempts is also a common sign of bad bot activities, especially from bots performing brute force and credential stuffing attacks.
- Performance: in cases of too many bot activities, it can cause a severe slowdown to your site’s performance. So, when there’s a sudden slowdown, check the other metrics for signs of bot activities.
Server-side bot detection is no longer sufficient since today’s sophisticated bots now use legitimate browsers (i.e. Chrome, Firefox) just like actual human users. Server-side detection collects fingerprints from HTTP requests, while today’s most advanced bots can use legitimate and consistent fingerprints.
To tackle this issue, we can no longer rely on a bot protection solution that relies on server-side detection alone, and must also combine client-side signals. DataDome, again, can use both client-side and server-side integration and analyze both fingerprints and behavioral signals like mouse movements.
Stopping malicious bot traffic is now very important for any business, considering how many cybersecurity attack vectors are relying on malicious bots to perform the attack. It’s best to invest in a proper bot management solution to protect your site, network, and system from various bot activities while ensuring legitimate human users and good bots can still access your website.