Bot management refers to the act of detecting and managing the activities of malicious internet bots while allowing useful (good) bots to access the website and ensuring optimal user experience for legitimate human users. 

In practice, bot management involves three different layers of operations: 

  • Distinguishing bot traffic from legitimate requests from human users
  • Differentiating between good bots and bad bots
  • Deciding the best course of operations to manage activities of bad bots

With an increasing amount of cyber attacks coming from malicious bots throughout 2021, according to DataDome, bot management is now essential for any business with an online presence. Left untreated, malicious bots can cause various problems for both your website and your business. 

What Is a Bot?

What Is a Bot?

A bot, or to be exact, an internet bot, is a computer program or software that operates on the internet and is programmed to execute automated tasks. Typically these tasks are relatively simple but repetitive, and a key advantage here is that the bot can execute the task at a much faster rate than a human user ever could. 

A bot, for example, can be designed to rapidly extract images from web pages. While a human user can certainly right-click and save all images on a web page, a bot can perform this task at a much faster rate while processing different pages at once. 

Good Bots VS Bad Bots

While the term ‘bot’ has gained notoriety in recent years since indeed it is often associated with various cybercrime activities, there are actually good bots that are beneficial, if not essential to many websites’ operations. 

Googlebot, for example, is a good bot from Google that constantly crawls and index websites so they can be featured on Google’s SERP (Search Engine Results Page). If you want your site to be ranked on Google, then you wouldn’t want to block Googlebot from crawling and indexing your site. 

However, there are also malicious bots operated/owned by hackers and cybercriminals, and they can perform various malicious activities such as: 

  • Content scraping: content scraping on its own is not illegal. However, attackers may steal your content and re-publish it on other sites, so you’ll lose any benefit you’ll otherwise get from the uniqueness of your content, including SEO performance. 
  • Slowing down your website: a massive number of requests from bots can burden your webserver and slow down your website. In turn, slow page speed can ruin your visitor’s user experience and may cause them to abandon your site. 
  • Competitive espionage: bots can steal your confidential information and leak it to your competitors. For example, for eCommerce sites where the price difference is really sensitive (i.e. ticketing), bots can leak your pricing strategy to your competitors so they can undercut your price. 
  • Account takeover: bots can perform brute force attacks or credential stuffing attacks to gain access to your (or your user’s) accounts and steal sensitive information. 
  • Spam: a common practice is to use bots to spam comment sections, social media profiles, forms, and others, typically to spread malware or links to malicious websites. 

How Does Bot Management Work?

Bot Management

As discussed, bot management involves three different stages of operations: differentiating bots from human users, distinguishing bad bots from good bots, and managing the bot traffic.

While there are various techniques that can be utilized, we can generally categorize these techniques into three big categories:

  • Challenge-based approach

The most basic form of bot detection is to challenge the traffic with a test that is designed to be easy to solve by human users but impossible to solve by programs. CAPTCHA is the most common form of challenge-based bot management techniques, and to some extent, it is still effective in managing various bot activities. However, there are two issues with this approach: 

  • Using too many CAPTCHAs (or similar tests) can ruin your site’s user experience
  • With the presence of CAPTCHA farm services, serious attackers can quite easily bypass CAPTCHA tests
  • Fingerprinting-based approach

In this approach, the bot management solution analyzes the bot traffic and looks for various fingerprints or signatures that might signify the presence of malicious bots. The bot management solution will also analyze the consistency of these fingerprints to check whether the bot is masking its fingerprints. 

Here are some example of fingerprinting-based techniques: 

  • Analyzing the client for common fingerprints of headless (modified) browsers like Nightmare, PhantomJS, and so on. However, advanced bot programmers can remove these attributes. 
  • Checking for attributes that should or should not be present in the browser type claimed by the client
  • Analyzing OS and browser type consistency
  • Analyzing whether the browser is running in a virtual machine
  • Behavioral-based approach

The most advanced approach at the moment, here the bot management solution analyzes and compares the client’s behaviors to real human behaviors. These advanced bot mitigation solutions utilize AI and machine-learning technologies to effectively distinguish behaviors from bots to legitimate human users. 

In behavioral-based detection the bot management solution will analyze these factors: 

  • Mouse clicks, whether there’s any noticeable pattern
  • Mouse movements (linear or patterned movements)
  • Scroll consistency and speed
  • Keystrokes
  • Average dwell time per page
  • The number of requests per session
  • Total number of pages viewed per session
  • Whether the client is blocking certain resources

At the moment, behavioral-based bot detection techniques are the most effective not only for differentiating between human users and bots but also between good and malicious bots. 

End Words

Bot management is now an essential practice for any business with an online presence, especially because malicious bots have become so sophisticated at masking their identities and impersonating human-like behaviors. 

If you really want to protect your system from various bot-related cybersecurity attacks like account takeover (ATO) attacks, content scraping, DDoS, and others, then you should invest in a proper bot management solution according to your system’s needs.