If you feel like your device is suddenly acting like an re-animated zombie that’s completely out of your control, you’ve probably been hit by a DDoS attack. These types of attacks are also often called a zombie army because of their large scale.
These malicious attacks occur when internet-connected devices are hijacked. Once they’re taken over by a hacker, devices are usually infected with malware and controlled from a remote location by a single hacker.
Although a hacker can infiltrate your device with a botnet, it can also use an army of botnets to take down your site or online business. A cyber attack using botnets infiltrated 1.5 million connected cameras to flood a journalist’s website, overwhelm it, and force it to go down. And that’s just what botnets did to a single website. Imagine what hackers could do with those 1.5 million devices if they accessed them to spy on people in their homes or tried to infiltrate their private data.
If you haven’t been hit by an attack yet, you should stay alert to the pervasive threat. In a world where the Internet of Things (IoT) market will grow from 15.4 billion devices in 2015, to 30.7 billion devices in 2020 and up to 75.4 billion by 2025, botnet detection and removal is crucial for our digital safety. Here are some best practices and methods to combat botnets and stay in control of your devices.
It’s important to know exactly how a botnet gets into your system and takes it over for nefarious purposes. Your device can become infected anytime you visit a malicious site and it automatically downloads malware without you ever noticing. Or you could download a file directly from your email from a seemingly-trustworthy source and later realize it’s malware that’s acting as a trojan. These types of phishing schemes can sometimes be hard to detect even with alert and tech-savvy users. Unfortunately, once the malware is on your device, it can unpack a virus and take over your device.
Another way botnets can infiltrate your systems is by searching for unprotected devices, from video baby monitors to computers, and accessing them through weak passwords. It’s easy for people to shrug off changing the password for a smart device like a toaster. NPR reported on how quickly a seemingly-innocent internet-connected toaster can be infected with botnets and result in a massive attack.
The first step in identifying a pervasive botnet attack is knowing how the botnet got onto your device in the first place. Instead of getting hit with a zombie botnet that you never saw coming, you can take a few minutes each week to see which botnets have been identified and named by security experts. In some cases, savvy tech users and programmers will post information about the latest botnets online.
Brush up on your knowledge and find out about the latest botnet attacks through sites like Wired, CNET or SearchSecurity. Tech publications and forums frequently update their content with the latest attacks. For example, Zeus botnets are a known Trojan horse for Windows created to steal banking information.
It’s not always easy to know if your device has been taken over by a botnet at first glance. It’s possible a hacker is lying low and quietly stealing information or simply setting up shop for a future attack while amassing other botnets. You won’t know what’s going on until it’s too late and you’ve lost control of your device.
However, there are a few clues that could alert you to suspicious activity. Pay close attention to your sent folder or your personal network getting in touch and asking you about all of your strange emails lately with links inside. The unusual activity may not be a simple case of email spoofing or a need to change your password. You may have a botnet downloaded onto one of your devices that are sending out emails in an attempt to install Trojan horses on other devices.
In some cases, a botnet may not be as difficult to remove as it would seem considering all of the damage it can do. But despite the potential ease of removal, you should always stay proactive. Start by backing up your valuable data to the cloud and making sure you have everything you need before moving on. The next step is resetting your device to factory settings, which will wipe your device clean.
It’s also wise to reset your routers and any wireless equipment. Some botnets like Mirai are often wiped out by using these simple techniques. But you still need to take additional action, like changing your default passwords and proactively monitoring for unusual behavior. Otherwise, the botnet may fall back on a safety trigger to reinstall itself and take over your device all over again.
Your devices need more protection to mitigate an attack and keep your systems safe. This is especially important for businesses that have multiple devices used by employees who are prone to using public wireless or working in the field. You can increase your web application firewall settings and rules to restrict the malware’s inbound or outbound network traffic.
Businesses that handle sensitive data and regularly connect to the cloud may also need stronger safeguards in place for internet users to protect their devices. You can consider restricting who has access to your company devices, which apps and websites can be accessed with those devices, and what type of internet connection they are allowed to use.
In some cases, it may also be necessary to start mandating workplace-only devices that are used in the office and ramp up the protocols for internet use.
The most sophisticated hackers aren’t necessarily relying on anything other than brute force to break into your devices via weak passwords. Despite ongoing warnings of the importance of strong passwords, people are guilty of reusing weak passwords or never updating the password defaults that come with their devices. According to reporting by Wired, ”123456” still tops the list for most-popular password and, of course, is the easiest to crack with virtually no effort whatsoever.
Even Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is guilty of using weak passwords. Business Insider reported that Zuckerberg was hacked when he used the password “dadada.” Using strong device authentication is not just a best practice, but absolutely integral to online security.
When it comes to deflecting botnets, it’s usually necessary to use several techniques at the same time to safeguard your devices. Changing passwords and remaining diligent about detection is just one part of the process. But you can also use tools like a proxy server.
A proxy server is essentially another device or computer that serves as a hub where your internet requests are processed to add a layer of protection to your IP address. Forcing all of your outbound traffic through a proxy server can help you monitor and control web access and help deflect encounters with botnets.
There’s a reason your device, apps, and operating systems are constantly prompting you to update your system. New patches aren’t just a “nice to have” addition, they’re a necessary part of your digital security.
Hackers frequently pounce on known vulnerabilities and create worms to infiltrate your systems. Or device manufacturers will release a patch update to combat a known hack or botnet that could attack your device. Take the time to update all of your devices, software, and apps and research the latest app vulnerabilities that impact your systems and business. This is also a good opportunity to perform vulnerability testing to figure out the easiest entry points for hackers.
Although you can take your digital security into your own hands, it’s not always possible to stay on top of the latest hacks and industry news. You’re running a business, not working to keep hackers from taking it down.
Depending on the amount of time you have to allow to keep your systems safe, you may need a professional monitoring service that can help detect, deflect, and restore your systems in case of a botnet attack. The service you choose should have a reputation for monitoring specifically for botnets and take a proactive approach to prevention.
With the rapid rise of the Internet of Things, botnets and zombie armies are only going to increase. Always look at every device that connects as a potential vulnerability point in your online safety. Your first course of action should be prevention by using strong passwords and keeping an eye on any suspicious activity. But once you’re infected, the goal is to stop the zombie army from spreading to other devices. The sooner you get help, the sooner you can shut it down and restore your devices.
What are your experiences with botnet detection and removal of best practices? Let us know by leaving a comment below:
Founder & Chief Marketing Officer, Indusface
Venky has played multiple roles within Indusface for the past 6 years. He was instrumental in building the product/service and technology team from scratch and grew it from ideation to getting initial customers with a proven/validated business model poised for scale. He has proven experience (10+ years) in the security industry and has held various mgmt/leadership roles in Product Development, Professional Services, and Sales during his time at Entrust Data card.