Botnets: What Are They and How Can You Protect Yourself?

Cybersecurity is a huge concern for businesses and individuals alike – and for good reason. Unfortunately, cybersecurity breaches are at an all-time high. These incidents are increasingly capable of imparting untold devastation on targets, many of which may be unable to recover from the financial damage or harm to their reputation.

In the interest of addressing these concerns, we’ve launched a series on today’s top digital threats. Our articles on spear phishing and CryptoLocker should provide a great start in your effort to inform yourself of the latest cybersecurity concerns and protective protocol. Next, we examine the threat posed by botnets and what you can do to keep them at bay.

What Are Botnets?

Before you can understand what botnets are – and why they’re so dangerous – it helps to recognize the role they play in the digital world.

Bots, also known as web robots, are software applications designed to run automated tasks known as scripts. They’re prized for their ability to handle large volumes of structurally simple scripts that would take ages for humans to deal with alone.

Just as bot is short for “robot,” the net in “botnet” is simply a shortened form of network. Therefore, a botnet can be thought of as a robot-powered network. Essentially, a standard botnet consists of a network of computers; however, these networks are rarely as harmless as typical bots. Cybercriminals purposefully infect botnets with malware in hopes of spamming individuals and businesses. Their ability to rapidly perform simple tasks makes them ideal for hackers. From sending spam to staging elaborate distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, botnets form a useful and highly dangerous tool.

How Are Botnets Created?

The person responsible for building and managing a botnet is typically referred to as a bot herder. In most cases, this person creates botnets by infecting networks with malware. This can take many forms, including drive-by downloads and trojans embedded within email attachments.

Often, those who use targeted devices are completely unaware that they’ve been compromised. Most functions continue to operate normally following botnet-related infections. In the background, however, infected computers run botnet malware and undesirable commands as unsuspecting users go about their day.

Once targeted devices are infected, they can be connected by host computers, which are controlled by bot herders. Hosts send commands, thereby controlling what may be referred to as ‘slave devices’ from remote locations. While these networks often fall under the control of the creator, they may be rented out to spammers, who can use already established infrastructure to stage their own attacks.

What Are the Best Solutions for Avoiding Botnets?

Unfortunately, a botnet attack may have already infected the device you’re using at this moment. As mentioned previously, users are often completely unaware of their role within the overarching botnet infrastructure. This invisibility makes it that much more difficult to prevent attacks – or deal with the aftermath. But while the average computer user may be vulnerable, most are far from helpless. The following solutions can minimize the potential for botnet interference:

Invest in Remote Monitoring and Management

Botnet infections often occur via seemingly harmless internet links or email attachments. While simple caution can prevent many attacks, botnet-inspired extensions may prove surprisingly difficult to spot. Hence, the need for additional protection. Remote monitoring and management (RMM) can provide valuable visibility across networks, while also implementing key defenses such as web protection or patch management.

Keep Vulnerable Software Up to Date

While botnets can exploit any program, essentials such as Adobe Flash, Adobe Reader, and standard web browsers may prove the easiest to manipulate. These programs provide regular updates – which many people foolishly ignore. Quick updates can prevent a lot of grief down the road, so don’t look the other way when notifications pop up.

Seek Reliable Antivirus Solutions

Unfortunately, in their desperation to avoid botnets, some people accidentally recruit them. Often, botnet attacks begin with online ads alerting users that their computers have been infected.

When in doubt, stick with reputable providers such as NerdsToGo, who can safely install the most effective antivirus software on your devices. Additionally, your provider should check in regularly to ensure that these programs remain activated and sufficiently patched.

Know the Signs of Botnet Infection

Awareness can play a key role in the fight against botnets. While infections can be difficult to spot, a few signs may prove revealing. For example, your system may have fallen victim to botnets if:

  • Loved ones have received emails or social media messages from you, but you don’t recall sending them.
  • It has become difficult or virtually impossible to download operating system or antivirus software updates.
  • Programs show up on Task Manager with cryptic or suspicious names.
  • Computer programs or the internet suddenly slow to a crawl.
  • Your computer won’t shut down properly – or if it does, it takes forever.

Protect Your Devices with Managed IT Services 

Do you suspect that your computer or network has been compromised by a botnet or some other malicious attack? Whether you’re on the hunt for additional protection or have already suffered a breach, it’s crucial to work with an expert. The technicians at NerdsToGo know what it takes to keep attackers at bay – and to minimize the damage from previous breaches. We’re pleased to provide in-home virus removal and computer repair. Our Nerds can also assist you with business firewall installation and a variety of other cybersecurity services. Feel free to contact us to learn more about our business IT solutions!