Identifying and Stopping Bot Attacks

February 22, 2024 by Laura Burrows

While bots have many helpful purposes, they have unfortunately become a tool for malicious actors to gain fraudulent access to financial accounts, personal information and even company-wide systems. Almost every business that has an online presence will have to face and counter bot attacks. In fact, a recent study found thatacross the internet on a global scale, malicious bots account for30 percentof automated internet activity.1And these bots are becoming more sophisticated and harder to detect.

What is a bot attack and bot fraud?

Bots are automated software applications that carry out repetitive instructions mimicking human behavior.2They can be either malicious or helpful, depending on their code. For example, they might be used by companies to collect data analytics, scan websites to help you find the best discounts or chat with website visitors. These “good” bots help companies run more efficiently, freeing up employee resources.

But on the flip side, if used maliciously, bots can commit attacks and fraudulent acts on an automated basis. These might even go undetected until significant damage is done. Common types of bot attacks and frauds that you might encounter include:

  • Spam bots and malware bots: Spam bots come in all shapes and sizes. Some might scrape email addresses to entice recipients into clicking on a phishing email. Others operate on social media sites. They might create fake Facebook celebrity profiles to entice people to click on phishing links. Sometimes entire bot “farms” will even interact with each other to make a topic or page appear more legitimate. Often, these spam bots work in conjunction with malware bots that trick people into downloading malicious files so they can gain access to their systems. They may distribute viruses, ransomware, spyware or other malicious files.
  • Content scraping bots: These bots automatically scrape content from websites. They might do so to steal contact information or product details or scrape entire articles so they can post duplicate stories on spam websites.
  • DDoS bots and click fraud bots: Distributed denial of service (DDoS) bots interact with a target website or application in such large numbers that the target can’t handle all the traffic and is overwhelmed. A similar approach involves using bots to click on ads or sponsored links thousands of times, draining advertisers’ budgets. 
  • Credential stealing bots: These bots use stolen usernames and passwords to try to log into accounts and steal personal and financial information. Other bots may try brute force password cracking to find one combination that works so they cangain unauthorized access to the account. Once the bot learns consumer’s legitimate username and password combination on one website, they can oftentimes use it to perform account takeovers on other websites.In fact,15 percentof all login attempts across industries in 2022 were account takeover attacks.1
  • AI-generated bots: While AI, like ChatGPT, is vastly improving the technological landscape, it’s also providing a new avenue for bots.3AI can create audio and videos that appear so real that people might think they’re a celebrity seeking funds.

What are the impacts of bot attacks?

Bot attacks and bot fraud can have a significant negative impact, both at an individual user level and a company level. Individuals might lose money if they’re tricked into sending money to a fake account, or they might click on a phishing link and unwittingly give a malicious actor access to their accounts. 

On a company level, the impact of a bot attack can be even more widespread. Sensitive customer data might get exposed if the company falls victim to a malware attack. This can open the door for the creation of fake accounts that drain a company’s money. For example, a phishing email might lead to demand deposit account (DDA) fraud, where a scammer opens a fraudulent account in a customer’s name and then links it to new accounts, like new lines of credit. Malware attacks can also cause clients to lose trust in the company and take their business elsewhere.

A DDoS attack can take down an entire website or application, leading to a loss of clients and money. A bot that attacks APIs can exploit design flaws to steal sensitive data. In some cases, ransomware attacks can take over entire systems and render them unusable. 

How can you stop bot attacks?

With so much at risk, stopping bot attacks is vital. But some of the most typical defenses have core flaws. Common methods for stopping bot attacks include:

  • CAPTCHAs: While CAPTCHAs can protect online systems from bot incursions, they can also create friction with the user process.
  • Firewalls: To stop DDoS attacks, companies might reduce attack points by utilizing firewalls or restricting direct traffic to sensitive infrastructures like databases.4
  • Blocklists: These can prevent IPs associated with attacks from accessing your system entirely.
  • Multifactor authentication (MFA): MFA requires two forms of identification or more before granting access to an account. Learn about our multi-factor authentication solutions.
  • Password protection: Password managers can ensure employees use strong passwords that are different for each access point.

While the above methods can help, many simply aren’t enough, especially for larger companies with many points of potential attacks. A piecemeal approach can also lead to friction on the user’s side that may turn potential clients away. Our 2023 Identity and Fraud Report revealed that up to 37 percent of U.S. adults stopped creating a new account because of the friction they encountered during the onboarding process. And often, this friction is in place to try to stop fraudulent access.

Why partner with Experian?

What companies need is fraud and bot protection with a positive customer experience. We provide account takeover fraud prevention solutions that that can help protect your company from bot attacks, fraudulent accounts and other malicious attempts to access your sensitive data. Experian’s approach embodies a paradigm shift where fraud detection increases efficiency and accuracy without sacrificing customer experience. We can help protect your company from bot attacks, fraudulent accounts and other malicious attempts to access your sensitive data. 

1“Bad bot traffic accounts for nearly 30% of APAC internet traffic,”SMEhorizon, June 13, 2023.https://www.smehorizon.com/bad-bot-traffic-accounts-for-nearly-30-of-apac-internet-traffic/
2“What is a bot?”AWS.https://aws.amazon.com/what-is/bot/
3Nield, David. “How ChatGPT — and bots like it — can spread malware,”Wired, April 19, 2023.https://www.wired.com/story/chatgpt-ai-bots-spread-malware/
4“What is a DDoS attack?”AWS.https://aws.amazon.com/shield/ddos-attack-protection/

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