What is a Botnet Attack?

What is a Botnet Attack?

What is a Botnet Attack?

Botnets — derived from the term robot network — are some of the most alarming online security threats you can encounter. They can perform actions at a massive scale and unify efforts across hundreds of thousands of internet-connected machines.

In North America alone, botnet attack attempts reached 551 million during the first half of 2020. These figures represent 442 million automated attacks and 109 million human-initiated ones.

To protect your organization, you should understand the nature of a botnet attack. This article will help you achieve such a feat. It will discuss everything you need to know about these threats, from types to common uses to defense tips.

What is a Botnet

In simple terms, a botnet is exactly as it sounds: a network of bots.  Typically, botnets are made up with a variety of hijacked computer devices. These systems work together to execute cyberattacks and other online scams through automation of mass attacks.

Botnets are often responsible for disrupting servers, data theft, and implementing malware.

Botnet Attack Definition

Botnet Attack Definition

A botnet attack is a remote-controlled cyberattack type hackers perform via internet-connected devices. During cybercrime attempts, they inject malware into a network to control the devices under it.

Botnets use your devices to cause internal disruptions or scam unsuspecting victims without your consent. They can compromise systems, spread malicious software, and recruit new gadgets into the loop.

Modern botnet attacks can take down massive computer networks within seconds and keep them for hours or days. The capability to launch large-scale attacks and hide behind so many computers makes them attractive to fraudsters.

What Are the Common Botnet Attack Types?

What Are the Common Botnet Attack Types?

Once a cybercriminal takes control of a botnet, the malicious possibilities are endless. They can launch any of these common attacks:


Phishing means sending fraudulent emails pretending to be from trusted organizations. Hackers use this technique to spread malware or encourage consumers to reveal personal information like passwords and credit card details. They can launch various attacks at once, making it quick and convenient to steal data from many people.

Distributed Denial-of-Service Attacks

Cybercriminals launch distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks to disrupt the usual traffic of targeted networks, servers, or services by flooding them with internet traffic. They use zombie computers to swarm websites and online services to render them inoperable for some time.

Brute Force Attack

Brute force attacks are a trial-and-error hack strategy to guess possible password combinations using a rapid, repetitive technology. Fraudsters will opt for them when they can’t access the passwords in a system.

Device Bricking

Bricking essentially means turning a device into a brick — or rendering it useless. No matter how expensive or high-tech your gadget is, bricked tools won’t power on or function normally. You also cannot fix them through conventional offline means.


Spambots capture email information from websites, forums, guestbooks, and other online spaces that require users to enter email addresses. After the acquisition, fraudsters will use these emails to create accounts and send spam messages.

How Do Botnet Attacks Work?

How Do Botnet Attacks Work?

Fraudsters use botnets to grow, automate, and accelerate their abilities to perform massive attacks. With technology on their side, a small team of hackers can remotely control various actions at once through their devices. Botnet attacks enable them to acquire additional gadgets for their malicious operations.

Cybercriminals often undergo three stages to pull off botnet attacks: finding a vulnerability, spreading malware, and controlling devices.

Stage 1: Finding a Vulnerability

Software vulnerabilities are weaknesses in your software program or operating system. When hackers identify them, they can write code to target these frailties on your website or application. They target users and expose them to malware infection. In most cases, they use emails or online messages to deliver malicious software.

Stage 2: Spreading Malware

During the second step, cybercriminals spread their malware. They usually use phishing emails, social network spam, remote desktop protocol, or drive-by downloads from compromised websites to complete this stage. Regardless of the delivery method, they have one goal: to breach several users’ computers at once.

Stage 3: Controlling Devices

Ultimately, hackers aim to control machines in a network that they can manage remotely. In most cases, they will try to infect as many computers as possible, often ranging from thousands to hundreds of thousands of devices. Once they have command, they can order a massive zombie network to perform their bidding.

Why Do Fraudsters Use Botnets?

Why Do Fraudsters Use Botnets?

  • Financial theft: Modern-day hackers can steal money directly from organizations or extort decision-makers to stop their attacks.
  • Data theft: Cybercriminals steal information to pay bills, transfer money, and perform fraudulent transactions. They can also sell sensitive information on the dark web in bulk.
  • Service sabotage: Fraudsters can render websites or apps useless for a time.
  • Cryptocurrency scams: Recent consumer protection statistics reveal that scammers stole over $80 million worth of cryptocurrency within five months from 2020 to 2021.
  • Sell access: Some swindlers prefer selling sensitive information to other criminals to further scam other people.

In most cases, attackers either want to steal something valuable or wreak havoc for companies and consumers. Whatever their intentions are, they have the power to cause catastrophic losses.

Do you remember the Mirai botnet attack of 2016? Industries were shocked to discover that a group of college students created it to gain an Edge in Minecraft.

However, it led to a massive DDoS attack on DNS provider Dyn that left most of the East Coast offline for some time. During its peak, it impacted over 600,000 devices. After the attack, the company lost 8% of its customer base.

If you don’t protect your organization from such threats, you too could fall victim to them.

How to Prevent a Botnet Attack

How to Prevent a Botnet Attack

Adopting best cybersecurity practices can help you prevent massive losses associated with botnet attacks. Below are some practical ways to protect your company from them:

Train Employees

The ideal first step in protecting your company from botnet attacks is to train teams about botnet phishing attacks, removable media, and physical security threats. When they understand the risks involved with their transactions, they become more vigilant of malicious attempts.

Use a Firewall

A firewall is a device that monitors and filters traffic based on your existing security policies. It stands as your first layer of defense against botnet attacks. However, while it’s a must-have for companies with online transactions, it’s not enough to stop botnet attacks on its own.

Update Software and Systems

Software and systems developers release upgrades that enhance user experiences. In most cases, they contain updates that address the latest online threats. Whenever you get the chance to modernize these tools, do it.

Install Anti-Virus Software

A reliable internet security suite will protect your devices against various threats. Consult with experts about products that cover all gadgets, including Android phones and tablets.

Encourage Strong Passwords

Hackers steal passwords in a variety of ways. Strong passwords can protect you from unauthorized access to the computers in your system. While even a simple password like officelaptop12345 takes many permutations to crack, botnets use advanced technologies to reveal them. It’s in your best interest to direct employees and users to use longer, more complex ones.

Are Botnets Illegal?

In reading how botnets can be used maliciously, you may make the assumption that they are illegal. Interestingly, botnets themselves are not illegal. At the end of the day, a botnet can just be a network of computers. And there isn’t anything illegal about that.

It all boils down to use and intent. It is illegal to create and use a botnet to hack into computers without authorization. It is also illegal to use botnets to commit other cybercrimes.

Are Botnets Easy to Track Down?

Botnets can be pretty large, which makes them somewhat difficult to track down. They can operate without anyone noticing them for a while. There are a number network-based botnet detection tools that can make it easier to detect a botnet. However, the problem is that by the time botnets are usually discovered, they’ve already done their damage.

That’s why it’s important to have multiple layers of security in place, so that even if one layer is breached, the others can still provide some measure of protection. For example, intrusion detection and prevention systems (IDPS) can be used to detect and block malicious traffic before it ever reaches its destination.

In short, yes, botnets can be easy to track down – but only if you have the right tools and systems in place. Otherwise, they can wreak havoc before anyone even knows they’re there.

Secure Your Business From Botnet Attacks

When hackers use the power of technology, they can turn all the devices in your network against you without you knowing. They can use these capabilities to steal money, sensitive information, and cryptocurrency. When you fall victim to such threats, you can experience massive monetary losses and brand damage. If you’ve moved most consumer interactions online, it’s best to secure your business from botnet attacks.