There is nothing inherently evil about a botnet. Botnets can perform many repetitive tasks. They can allow a bot herder to grow, automate, and speed up operations by accessing more resources from participants. For example, the crowdsourced scientific experiment, SETI@home, is a voluntary botnet in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI).
Unfortunately, the term botnet has negative connotations because bad actors often use the technology for malicious purposes. Malicious botnets develop through malware distribution. You can think of a malicious botnet like the Borgs from Star Trek.
Considering the threats to the safety of yourself and others, it is imperative that you protect yourself from botnet malware. Fortunately, software protections and small changes to your computer habits can help.
Signs your computer could be part of a botnet
A botnet infection is dangerous because its symptoms aren’t always cut and dry. Botnet symptoms can result from another type of malware, hardware issues, or software updates. Download Malwarebytes free to scan your computer for malware, and review your security settings if you notice some of the following symptoms, just to be safe:
1. Unexplained activity: You notice that your processor, hard drive, or computer fans are running excessively and without cause.
2. Slow Internet: Your Internet is slower than usual. You notice that your router is working furiously, but you’re not downloading or uploading anything, nor are you updating software.
3. Slow reboots and shutdowns: Malicious software can cause a computer to shut down slowly. For example, if your computer is actively participating in a botnet, it may take time to shut down.
4. Applications are crashing: Programs that loaded and ran seamlessly before are buggy now.
5. Excessive RAM usage: Botnets can consume memory. Check to see if a mysterious application is using a large percentage of your RAM.
6. Mysterious emails: People on your contact list complain that you sent them SPAM or malicious emails.
7. Unsafe habits: You haven’t downloaded critical security patches for your operating system, or you opened malicious links, downloaded unsafe software, or went to an unsafe website.
Just like how the Borgs assimilate individuals into drones for the Collective, computers secretly infected by a botnet agent unwittingly become part of the botnet and report to the bot herder’s command and control servers. Here, the bot herder can use the botnet for some of the following operations:
1. Mass email spam campaigns
Spam botnets can send over a hundred billion spam messages per day. Some spam generated by botnets is merely a nuisance. However, more dangerous spam botnets can carry out phishing campaigns, distribute malware, spread more bots, and steal sensitive information. You can read about the Emotet botnet to learn more about spam campaigns.
2. DDoS attacks
Botnet DDoS attacks can utilize your computer’s resources to launch distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. This type of attack involves sending excessive traffic to a website or service to overwhelm it. Depending on the nature and scale of an organization, a DDoS attack can be a minor annoyance to permanently damaging.
3. Fake Internet traffic generation
Ad fraud botnets can use your web browser to send traffic to online advertisements without your consent. The process defrauds marketers by generating fake traffic and earning revenue. Such botnets are hard to notice because they use very few resources.
4. Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) attacks
An RDP attack allows hackers to exploit network security flaws and drop malware like ransomware. Cybercriminals can use Botnets like GoldBrute to hack RDP servers. RDP attacks are so serious that even the FBI has issued a warning.
5. Internet of Things (IoT) Attacks
The Internet of Things (IoT) is the system of billions of Internet-connected devices that collect and share data without human intervention for user benefit. For example, a driverless truck that collects and transmits data through sensors is an IoT device. Botnets like the Mirai botnet scan the Internet for Internet of Things devices and infect them.
Additionally, a cybercriminal can use a bot to breach your security and privacy in several ways:
• Monitor your keystrokes
• Steal your login credentials
• Steal your intellectual property
• Steal financial data
• Take advantage of backdoors
How to Protect Yourself From Botnets
You require an all-inclusive strategy ranging from good surfing habits to software updates to anti-virus protection to prevent botnet infection. Listed below are some essential methods to keep botnets away.
1. Updating your operating system is a good malware preventative measure.
2. Beware of phishing emails and avoid email attachments from suspicious sources.
3. Refrain from clicking on suspicious links and be careful about which site you use for downloading information.
4. Install anti-virus, anti-spyware, and firewalls on your systems.
5. If you are a website owner, establish a multi-factor verification method and implement DDoS protection tools. This will safeguard your website from botnet attacks.
6. Improve all user passwords for smart devices. Using complex and long passwords will help your devices stay safer than weak and short passwords. Such as ‘pass12345.
7. Avoid buying devices with weak security. While this isn’t always easy to spot, many cheap smart home gadgets tend to prioritize user convenience over security. Research reviews on a product’s safety and security features before buying.
8. Update admin settings and passwords across all your devices. You’ll want to check all possible privacy and security options on anything that connects device-to-device or to the internet. Even smart refrigerators and Bluetooth-equipped vehicles have default manufacturer passwords to access their software systems. Without updates to custom login credentials and private connectivity, hackers can breach and infect each of your connected devices.
9. Be wary of any email attachments. The best approach is to completely avoid downloading attachments. When you need to download an attachment, carefully investigate, and verify the sender’s email address. Also, consider using antivirus software that proactively scans attachments for malware before you download.
10. Never click links in any message you receive. Texts, emails, and social media messages can all be reliable vehicles for botnet malware. Manually entering the link into the address bar will help you avoid DNS cache poisoning and drive-by downloads. Also, take an extra step to search for an official version of the link.
11. Install effective anti-virus software. A strong internet security suite will help to protect your computer against Trojans and other threats. Be sure to get a product that covers all your devices, including Android phones and tablets.