Botnets have been around since the late 80s, but in recent years they have grown more intelligent and destructive. There are ways to get ahead of this malicious type of virus, but first, let’s dive into the definition of what a botnet is, how a botnet attack happens and how it works against your small business.
What is a botnet anyway?
A botnet is a network of computers designed to create coordinated attacks using malicious software against other machines. They are built to automate and speed up cyber criminal attacks, exponentially amplifying the malicious actions of a hacker.
Botnets can spread in both active and passive ways to infect other computer systems. A passive botnet attack requires user intervention, such as visiting an infected site, that unbeknownst to you, gives the botnet access to all computer systems connected to your site.
An active botnet attack spreads without user intervention because they are designed to scan for hosts that have vulnerabilities that can be exploited by the botnet.
How does a botnet attack businesses?
Botnets are also used to spread spam, malware and spyware, ransomware, and trojans, in addition to administering brute force attacks, phishing scams, cryptomining, click fraud and ad fraud. They can replicate by using worms and other malware, and can hide their activities using toolkits, giving the botnet more time to infiltrate and damage a system. Data theft can also take place through botnets, compromising data security and gaining access to private information.
Botnets can even be used to deny service to servers and websites (Distributed Denial of Services, or DDOS). This works by overloading a server and damaging its ability to react to incoming packet requests. This type of botnet essentially knocks a server out, taking it online and making the site or server inaccessible to genuine users who want to access it. And if there is an extensive botnet attacking your system, then your small business can fall victim to multiple, simultaneous cybersecurity threats.
A botnet attack can even create a zombie computer. No, this isn’t something out of a futuristic sci-fi novel! A zombie computer refers to what happens after a device is taken over by a bot herder, or a group of hijacked devices. Once a device is hijacked, it is controlled and made to perform tasks designed by the bot herder. This can be very damaging to a business because a zombie computer can give a hacker access to user’s personal data and then monitor user activity. It also allows them to read and write system data, and install and run applications.
Zombie computers can do serious damage and remain undetected for a significant length of time. They have even been deployed on a massive, nation-wide scale such as the botnet attacks that affected Denmark and the Netherlands in 2018. This hack was simple yet sophisticated enough to take down the train system for an entire country. Don’t think this means that your small business won’t be targeted. Cybercriminals attack businesses of all sizes, and smaller companies are often targeted because they have fewer resources to put toward cybersecurity, and can thus be easier to infiltrate.
Botnets don’t just attack computers, they can infiltrate any type of personal device including smartphones and tablets, and also target hardware such as routers and servers. Any internet-connected device can fall victim to a bot net, including smart home systems and wearable tech. The Mirai botnet even leveraged security cameras and DVRs in 2016! The Mirai botnet source code was eventually released “into the wild”, which led to a string of copycats that are still infecting computers to this day.
While the issue of botnets isn’t new, their technology has become increasingly difficult to prevent and disrupt. As we’ve shared in past articles, your best line of defense against any type of cyber attack is a two-pronged approach: strong security and ongoing personnel training.
Botnet Attack: Robust Security Systems
Botnets are designed to exploit holes in network security, so the number one way that you can protect your small business is to invest in a quality firewall, and then run regular updates and upgrades on it to ensure that it is giving your system constant and consistent protection.
Having a robust antivirus system is an excellent addition to your firewall because antivirus software doesn’t let viruses access your systems. You can also add a behavioral AI security solution that can prevent malware payloads from attacking your devices. A virtual private network (VPN) also provides an added layer of security.
To best protect your small business from botnets and their devastating effects, you need to have a blend of several security solutions that work well together to ensure that your network is protected from all vulnerabilities that a botnet could exploit.
You should also consider additional security measures such as multi-factor authentication, data encryption, limiting admin privileges to only the few people that absolutely need it, and outsourcing to a Managed IT Service that will take on responsibility for your cybersecurity.
Botnet Attack: Training and Protocol
Human error is the cause of a significant percentage of cyberattacks. Get ahead of botnets and other criminal exploitations by holding both onboarding and ongoing training for your staff, having clear expectations about cybersecurity measures, and added security measures when staff members leave your company.
There are some basic cybersecurity protocols that you should require for your staff. Direct them to run updates and patches immediately when prompted. If an update reminder comes up at a truly inconvenient time, have them schedule the update to run that night after they’ve completed work for the day. Encourage the use of strong, unique passwords, in addition to having different passwords for each system they need to access. You can also provide a secure password manager to encourage employees to be diligent in not reusing old passwords.
Email systems are vulnerable, so consider encrypting all email messages and using multi-factor authentication. Train your employees to ignore ads and pop-ups, and take the time to verify the identity of the sender before opening email attachments.
For team members working from home, provide a VPN for their devices so that they can easily avoid connecting to an insecure network from home or while working on the road.
Whether you are looking to upgrade or overhaul your cybersecurity, Tech Masters can help you select, install, and manage a combination of security products that fit your needs and your budget. Contact us for a free business assessment today!
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