What Are Botnets and How Do They Work?

Botnets are recognized today as one of the most dangerous online infections. They are exactly what they sound like – they are networks of hacked computers acting as automated bots.

What Are Botnets?

Botnets Explained

In principle, hacked computers acting as bots are no different from any other infected device. However, in practice, botnets have a very complicated mechanism through which they function. Let us explore some of the key factors involved in botnets and how you can protect your computer from them.

How do Botnets Work?

Essentially, botnets are networks of computers which have been infiltrated by a hacker. They are thus compelled to follow the commands of the central computer. The infected computers are colloquially called zombies because the perform actions mindlessly.

A botnet is created for a number of purposes such as hacking into high-stakes security networks, spanning, cryptocurrency mining etc. There are basically two distinct models through which botnets are set up.

Client-Server Models

This model is the traditional one and so, it has a centralized authority device. This device gives commands to all others and controls their actions. While this method is simple and effective, it does make sustaining the network harder. This is so because once the network is detected, the primary device can be located relatively easily and shut down. One of the most infamous incidents involving this model was performed using the Hola VPN extension.

P2P Models

P2P models are pretty new in terms of botnet hacking setups. This method is much more discreet as the central command device is enmeshed in the network itself. So, it is harder to locate and shut down. Also, this model is more sustainable as infected devices which are shut down can easily be replaced by new ones.

How Do Botnets Proliferate or Grow?

Botnets are created by hacking into devices and stringing them together to form a computing chain. To do this without the consent of individual device owners, the hacker will need a Trojan. A Trojan is any malicious software which infiltrates a system on the pretext of being something else.

Usually, people’s devices get infected with Trojans because they download something without knowing what it actually is. Once the Trojan has been injected into a device, the hacker can control virtually any aspect of the device.

What Are Botnets Used For?

Basically, there are two purposes that you use botnets for – disperse something online faster or perform identical tasks on all devices. While this seems simple enough, the combined power of a large enough botnet can be used for truly amazing or horrifying purposes. As such, botnets are used mostly for the following purposes.

Creating and Dispersing Spam, Phishing Attacks and Malware

Spam creation and dispersion is a simple activity with today’s computing power and potential. However, one device can only do so much in that area. A more efficient way to ensure great spamming is to use multiple devices.

The same can be said for phishing attacks as well. Malware, however, is a different story. Hackers spend quite a bit of time and effort creating new viruses and the best way for wide array dispersion is to use botnets.

Malware dispersion is particularly useful through botnets since malware will be detected quickly by antivirus and blocked. So, within that small window frame, the malware needs to infect as many devices as possible to be profitable.

The combined computing power of many devices tuned to spamming, phishing, and malware dispersion allows hackers to perform on a tremendous scale. Naturally, the number of prey they land is also proportionate to that.

DDoS Attacks

DDoS Attacks have a simple premise – crowd all the botnet zombies onto a website and slow it down to a crawl. Though this activity is not profitable in any real sense, it may be used as a trolling mechanism or in protest. Either way, DDoS attacks really decimate the performance of any website.

Password Breaches

The simplest way to gain entry into a home is to pick the door lock. Password breaches are exactly that. However, actually guessing a password is tedious work. So, hackers often employ what is called a brute force attack.

These attacks mostly involve trying to use all kinds of word, phrase, number, or sign sequence to gain access to an account. But since you can make so many attempts from one device, botnets come in handy. They allow for virtually limitless tries and with some luck, the hacker gains access to the account.

Things get even more streamlined if hackers use Password Cracker software. However, even these attacks have a slim chance of being successful if you have a strong password.

Cryptomining

Since cryptocurrency arrived on the scene botnet owners have found a new way to mint money. They simply put all their zombies to work and stand to turn quite a profit from it. This is called crypto jacking and the trend is on the vertical around the world. The number of detected crypto jacking situations have risen by 8500% this year as compared to last year.  

How Can You Protect Yourself from Botnets?

With all that said, botnets can be relatively easy to detect and eliminate provided you have the right software. Reputed antiviruses will mostly do the trick. However, you need to be sure that you do not have anything running counter to them. By that, we mean a software like a free VPN.

Anybody who knows anything about the world knows that nothing is free. The same applies to VPNs. Free VPNs might sound like a great thing but they pose a colossal risk at best. Most free VPN, if not all, have some trick for earning money. This can range from selling your personal info to providing backdoor access to botnets to a range of other things.

While paying for a VPN might seem like an expensive idea, but the fact is that most top VPNs are pretty affordable. So, the smart thing to do is to avoid free VPNs and go for paid ones with an ironclad privacy policy and reputation for reliability. Combine that with a good antivirus and you can be sure your device will never be zombified.

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