What Are Botnets and How to Protect Yourself from Them in 2021

Hackers are in a constant search to find new ways to attack our systems and devices and in this sense, one of the most dangerous threats today is with no doubt, the botnet: a set of bots that coordinate to launch massive attacks using a large number of infected devices.

Although today we have many tools and advances in the security area to protect us, sometimes this is not enough; for this reason, having a preventive security plan can make the difference between “surviving” a botnet attack, or suffering the consequences of it.

In this article, you’ll learn a little more about what botnets are, how they work and how to prevent botnet attacks.

What is a botnet?

The term botnet refers to a network of devices used by cybercriminals to carry out their criminal acts. This network can be made up of various types of devices, including PCs, smartphones, and tablets.

Some experts refer to this as an “army of zombie computers”, as these are devices that become controlled by hackers and act according to their will.

Note that a botnet can be made up of tens, hundreds or even thousands of devices, which undoubtedly makes it one of the most dangerous cybersecurity threats, capable of causing serious problems not only to large companies, but also to governments and all kinds of organizations.

On top of that, a botnet can also act to steal your personal data and confidential information, in addition to taking control of your devices.

What can cybercriminals do with a malicious botnet?

Once hackers have hacked your computer to become part of their botnet, they can use it to carry out different activities such as:

  • Denial of Service (DDoS) Attacks – To saturate a website's traffic and cause it to crash and stop working.
  • Send spam – They send e-mail messages to millions of people to be victims of phishing.
  • Steal important information – To supplant identities, scam, steal bank accounts or simply sell it to third parties.
  • Generate artificial traffic – To improve the ranking of any specific website.
  • Falsify ads – To make you click on fake ads and infect your computer with malware.

How to know if your network is part of a botnet?

Although the symptoms of a botnet infection are very similar to other malware infections, there are some specific signs that can help you recognize if your device has turned into a zombie.

  • You receive excessive amounts of spam and advertising when surfing the Web.
  • Your PC fan turns on even when it’s in sleep or hibernation modes.
  • The Internet connection and computer performance is slower than usual.
  • The operating system loads slower when the device is turned on
  • Your contacts receive emails that you have not sent.
  • There are programs on your device that you didn’t install.
  • Your computer's battery drains faster than normal.
  • The electricity bill grows, as some botnets are used for cryptocurrency mining.
  • Your computer behaves strangely, as botnets will do whatever it takes to avoid being discovered — like turning off your antivirus.

How to prevent botnet attacks

Let's see now what are the best preventive security measures that you can follow to avoid being a victim of this terrible digital threat.

Activate your firewall

Among all the security tools available for our use, the firewall is one of the most reliable and used to prevent network attacks. So, if you want to protect your device from botnet attacks, activate the firewall that comes by default on your device or download a quality one.

If you're a Windows PC user, you can rest easy, since this operating system has a firewall by default, but this doesn’t usually happen in the case of mobile devices. Once you have downloaded or activated your firewall, remember to configure it correctly.

Limit network sharing with other computers

Although today it's common to keep all our devices constantly connected to the Internet through a single WiFi connection, this can also be a problem for our security.

The best practice to prevent botnet attacks is to limit the number of devices that connect simultaneously to the same network. This as long as it’s not necessary to keep them all connected for some important matter.

Use data filtering

Typically, botnet networks work by constantly communicating with at least one remote command and access server that cybercriminals use to extract important information from their victims.

You can block these malicious interactions and prevent attacks by activating data filtering on information leaving your network.

Add additional layers of security

To fully secure your network, it’s very important that you enable as many additional security options as you can. This is in order to close any security breaches that you may not be fully aware of. This is particularly important when it comes to a business network.

Constantly monitor your network

The greater the level of control you maintain over the use of your network and the devices connected to it, the better. If possible, try to set up 24-hour network activity monitoring.

To achieve this, you can make use of data collection tools that constantly analyze the input and output of data. These programs are able to detect any strange behavior and block any attempt to infiltrate the system — or at least warn before it happens.

Keep your system updated

A key point that can never fail are security patches and updates. Many of the threats that manage to penetrate security systems come through vulnerabilities in very old systems.

This is why it's very important to have the latest versions of all your software installed, especially if these are security programs. In this way, you can prevent possible hackers from taking advantage of these flaws to carry out their attacks.

Use very complex passwords

Passwords are always one of the most vulnerable points, since many times we don't pay attention to creating strong passwords. The best advice you can follow is to always change the passwords that come by default on any device that is going to connect to the Internet.

A good password should be as long as possible, totally random and unique, with uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and other special symbols.

Be careful about your downloads

Downloads of software, music, movies, and games over the Internet are one of the main entry points for malware. In this sense, you must learn to be very careful with the websites from which you download.

Try to download only legitimate software and from official sites. The same happens with any game and multimedia element, especially if it’s about P2P downloads, since this is one of the main means to carry out this type of attacks.

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