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What is Botnet? How do they work?

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Photo: WhataWin/

A botnet is an army of online hijacked internet-connected devices. Will they take over humanity? Not at the moment, but with organised efforts from bot herders or hackers from around the world, they probably could. The word ‘Bot’ comes from the word ‘robot’ and ‘net’ from ‘network’.

A single computer that gets infected by malware and adds to a collection of infected computers leads to a botnet. Read on below to find out how it works and what you can do to avoid an attack.

Also Read: 9 common types of Malware explained

Botnet explained

A botnet is also referred to as a zombie army. Malicious software has various ways to take over your internet-connected device. A cyber-criminal has the ability to control thousands of such infected computers. It allows cyber-criminals to launch a variety of cybercrimes. These crimes include DDoS attacks, online frauds, spam, and phishing cases, basically stealing data—the most recent being bitcoin or crypto-mining.

Also read: What is Mirai botnet and 3 ways to counter it

How do Botnets work?

Botnets rely on a client-server model to accomplish tasks; this includes the set-up of a command and control (C&C) server. A central server sends commands via an internet relay chat (IRC) network or websites. An individual bot herder sends one remote message to the client and then executes orders.

A peer-to-peer model is another way of distributing the responsibility of activating the malware inside each zombie computer. They come with information already inside them and scan the internet for higher versions of the bot for auto-upgrade. The P2P model works as the command and client servers contain the same malware.

Botnet attack vectors

Several areas come under the radar of a botnet attack, some including:

  • DDoS or Distributed Denial-of-Service: Increasing a website’s incoming traffic by overloading the system. This makes the website crash. Frequently targeted companies are e-commerce, IT, telecom, financial as well as government. The duration of the attack can last from hours to days, and the financial loss is often heavy.
  • Phishing:: A means of extracting financial or sensitive information from the client by pretending to be a legitimate source. For example, cyber-criminals make sure that their website is similar to your bank’s, so you may enter your bank account details.
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  • Spyware:: Used by spammers to steal your personal data by placing the spyware into your device. They are designed as trojans, in the form of advertisements, exploiting tracking cookies and as system performance monitors. Once it gets on your system, your personal identity is at a high risk of being stolen and imitated.
  • Bitcoin mining: Bitcoin’s value dropped by 33% due to bitcoin mining in February 2014. This is a way of extracting some bitcoins from the user’s crypto-wallet on every transaction.

Uses of botnets

Botnets are linked to malicious activities for personal gain or client gain. As in, they are used by rival companies to bring down a company or by protestors to bring down government websites. Some examples of botnets are Mirai, Zeus, GameOver Zeus, Methbot, Zunker, etc.

In September 2021, Meris, a DDoS attack-type botnet, was discovered with 250,000 infected devices in its zombie army. It took down the websites of major companies in the US, UK and New Zealand and demanded ransom money.

Also read: What is IoT Botnet? How does it affect the Internet of Things?

Botnet: Advantages and disadvantages

A successful botnet can get thousands of infected IoT devices to join its army. Given below are three points on a botnet’s strengths and weaknesses. Botnets can be difficult to manage, and many times, entire botnet armies are on sale or rent for the right buyer. For example, the creators of the Mirai botnet placed it on rent for financial gain.

Easy to plant in client’s IoT device.Single control and command centre.
Large community and help are readily available. Generates a lot of traffic with the client-server method than the P2P mode.
Smooth communication for the bot herder with the infected device.Challenging to manage globally due to language barriers.

How to safeguard against botnets?

You need to take precautions if you want a safe and malware-free user experience as you surf the internet. The steps given below are some suggestions you can follow:

  • Use anti-spam filters to avoid phishing emails.
  • Mainly, strong passwords should be both complex and lengthy for devices that are a part of IoT.
  • Avoid clicking on links or attachments received through emails, texts or social media messages.
  • Get an effective anti-virus software to protect you from falling prey to spammers.
  • Keep your software updated by downloading from an authentic source.
  • Make sure your anti-virus software scans all of your downloads to avoid downloading malware.

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Sania Usmani

Sania Usmani

Always curious, calm, and a little crazy, you can find me daydreaming or studying. An avid reader, traveler, and graduate of Aviation Science, I love gaining new experiences in life and star gazing. You can contact her here: