Bot Managers: How Do They Work?

Almost 40% of online traffic in 2018 comes from internet robots or commonly called bots. A significant portion of this traffic comes from good bots that can be beneficial for businesses, with how more services are now performed exclusively online.


However, it’s no secret that there are also a lot of bad bots circulating on the internet that are designed to perform malicious tasks, and they can cause serious, even permanent damage to the company’s finances and reputation.


On the other hand, managing bad bots is increasingly becoming a very challenging task. Today’s bots are getting more sophisticated at mimicking human behaviors and can rotate between hundreds if not thousands of UAs and IP addresses.  So, IP-based blocking is now no longer very effective, and today’s bot managers are required to utilize proactive methods in detecting, analyzing, and managing all types of bot activity on websites.


What Are Bot Managers?

Bot managers, or bot management solution/software, is a software that performs bot management on a website. 


Bot management, on the other hand, is the practice of detecting the presence of bots, understanding their activities and intents, and judging how these bots would impact the website/business before taking appropriate action.


For instance, if it’s a good bot that performs a beneficial activity for the business, then the bot manager might allow it to access your website and perform its operation. When it’s a bad bot, on the other hand, the bot manager might decide to block its activities altogether, limit/throttle its activity, send fake content, and other actions. 


In short, a bot manager’s role is to reduce the risk of bot-related cybersecurity threats and managing (not essentially blocking) unwanted bot traffic from your network. 


A bot manager must be:


  • Effective: must be able to identify and manage sophisticated bots that can mimic legitimate user’s behavior and bypass traditional detection method
  • Efficient: an efficient bot manager has to be consistent and reliable in detecting bot activities in real-time without wasting too many resources so it can maintain reliability at all times. 
  • Mitigation: blocking bot activities is no longer the preferred approach nowadays, and a more case-by-case approach is preferred to mitigate and manage what the bots are doing.


Blocking all bot activities are not preferred mainly due to two reasons: 


  1. We wouldn’t want to accidentally block good bots that are beneficial to our site, and we also wouldn’t want to block legitimate human users (false positives)
  2. Blocking bad bots would tell the bot operator that there’s something wrong with the bot’s programming, and might provide the operator with information to update the bot. The bot can return later, stronger than ever. 


These are why a proper bot manager is essential if you are serious about your site’s cybersecurity. 


How Does a Bot Manager Work?

As discussed, modern bot managers have to face two key challenges: distinguish bad bots from legitimate, good bots, and identify these bad bots which are increasingly becoming more sophisticated at mimicking human users. 


While there are various bot management techniques that have been invented to tackle these two issues, in general, there are three main approaches in detecting the presence of bad bots: 


  • Challenge-based: in this approach, the bot is “managed” using challenges or tests that are difficult for bots to solve but easy enough for humans to solve. CAPTCHA is the most common form of challenge-based bot mitigation but is increasingly becoming less effective due to the presence of CAPTCHA farms, among others.
  • Static/signature-based detection: in this approach, the bot manager analyzes incoming traffic and tries to look for signatures or fingerprints that might signify the presence of bad bots like the presence of headless browser signatures, inconsistent OS/browser usage, IP addresses, and so on. 
  • Dynamic/behavioral-based detection: in this approach, the bot manager analyzes the activity of a client and matches this activity against known patterns to verify whether it is a legitimate human user or a bot. 


The most advanced bot detection and mitigation tools like DataDome utilize AI-based behavioral detection to analyze bot activities in real-time, while also utilizing signature-based techniques to identify known bots. 


What Kinds of Cybersecurity Threats Can Bot Managers Protect Against?

In general, a bot manager can effectively protect against all kinds of bot-related cybersecurity threats, including but not limited to: 


  • DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service): DDoS attacks often involve the use of bots and botnets to flood the server with a massive amount of requests to slow down the server or even completely shut down the website.
  • Content scraping: web scraper bots might steal the content on your page and then reuse it on other sites without your authorization, which can lead to various negative consequences from content duplication issues to data breach.
  • Brute force and credential stuffing attacks: the attacker might use bots to attempt to guess username/password pairs repeatedly and on multiple sites simultaneously. 
  • Spam attacks: sending fraud emails, flooding comment sections with fraud links, generating fake/biased reviews, and other similar types of attacks. 
  • Ad-click fraud: the bot clicks on ads to generate revenue or to skew the cost of actual advertising. 
  • Hype sales: beat out real customers in purchasing highly profitable deals, which are then resold at higher prices for profit. 
  • Credit card test: automatically verifying stolen credit card information on various eCommerce sites, might lead to chargebacks and other issues. 
  • Account creation: automatically generate fake profiles to send spam, fake reviews, hate speech, and other malicious activities. Can also be used to launch social engineering and phishing attacks.


End Words

With how bot activities are increasingly becoming more dangerous and at the same time much more difficult to detect and manage, a proper bot manager solution is no longer a luxury, but a necessity for any online business, big or small. 


The best approach to successful bot management no longer includes simply blocking all bot traffic, but a bot manager that can leverage real-time, AI-based analytics in real-time to detect and manage different types of bots is now preferred. 


DataDome is an advanced bot manager utilizing AI and machine learning technologies to identify and manage the presence of bad bots in real-time and with an autopilot approach.

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