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[Complete Guide] Spambots and How to get rid?

Last Updated, 2021-12-15 spambot email-spam

What is a Bot?

A bot is a software application that is programmed typically to do some of the human's repetitive tasks at a much faster speed. One good thing about bots is it's automated. Which means they can run according to the programmed instructions and doesn't necessarily require human intervention.

Based on usage and behaviour, bots can be:

  1. Good bots: Any bot which is helping individuals or organizations to achieve their personal or business goals are known as a Good bot. Search engine bots, social bots, chatbots are few examples of Good bots. 
  2. Bad bots: Any bot which is harming others by doing malicious activities on the internet are known as a Bad Bot. These bots are developed by cybercriminals and Black hat hackers to drive personal or financial gains. Scraper bots and Spambots are few examples of Bad Bots.

In this tutorial, you will be learning the A-Z of SPAM Bots and ways to catch hold them at the early stage to minimize the losses.

FAQ

What are Spambots?

Before I start with Spambots, let's discuss a few points briefly about bad bots. In this era, you are interacting more with a bot than a human no matter its a robocall from any telecom industry or chatbots. Unless these bots are not causing harm, you are happy to interact with them. But;

  1. Do you know they are slowly and gracefully getting your data?
  2. Do you know many similar bots are working parallelly on the web, who are ready to capture your information?

40% of the global internet traffic is bots consisting of both good and bad ones. The worst affected industry is Banking & Finance, where 42% of the traffic is of bad bots. These bots directly gain profit by scraping or collecting sensitive data through phishing pages or similar techniques. 

The next most affected industry is ticketing, where 39% of the web traffic is of bad bots. These bots purchase tickets in real-time and sell to the third party, which directly affects the genuine customers.

Based on the type of activity and intent, bad bots can be further classified. Spambot has been the most known bad bots on the internet.

A spambot is a software application that is programmed typically to distribute bulk spam messages to users. Spambots are capable of doing various malicious activities which include things like fake commenting on forums, collecting email addresses, showing irrelevant ads. These spambots send unwanted messages which generally have phishing links or forms to get your data. Few spambots work on spreading false promotions to increase false traffic on websites.

How do Spam bots operate?

Spambots can operate on various mediums with different methods. It can create accounts on different sites, comment on social groups, forums, and communities with irrelevant information. These bots are programmed capable enough to interact with users like a human on different forums and communities.

How spambots do multiple signups?

Signup forms consist of few data fields, and any hacker can write a small script or code to program bots in such a way that it can fill the form. Using such bots, they do multiple vague signups that flood up the organization database with spam accounts. Due to this irrelevant signup, the genuine user faces the latency while interacting on websites and the possibilities of getting higher bounce rates on the signup form increases. These spambots can gain access to your platform and can initiate unwanted spam to other users.

Few spambots are just programmed to scrap the data from all over the internet. And, then sell the data on the dark web. These data may include sensitive financial information and other PII information like email address, phone number, and social accounts.

Types of Spambot

Based on the kind of activity, Spambots can be of different types. Like a few scrap data, some spam on the comment section of websites, some send an unwanted message through emails.

Email Spam 

These bots collect emails by crawling web pages by matching pattern, like [email protected] Once the data is harvested by scraping, and email database is ready. The attackers send out emails to large no of users. These emails are malicious in nature consists of malware or have some link which leads to collect your personal information (phishing).

Email Spam is not only done on the harvested database but also includes the email list purchased from the dark web.

Email Spam is not only done on the harvested database but also includes the email list purchased from the dark web.

Comment Spam 

Comment spam is a bot generally found in different open forums. These bots typically initiate fake comments to sell a product or to generate backlinks to increase website traffic. Many websites allow public commenting which makes it easier for spambots to comments without even having an account with the website. Even if your platform requires an auth, these bots can create an account and start commenting. 

Social Media bots 

The most active bots are on social media like Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. These bots typically post messages with offers, deals, and products. They will like, share and comment on the post which is not at all relevant to connecting posts. The accounts can be a fake account or a real user whose account is compromised. Their account will look legitimate like any other real account. Usually, you can find the number of twitter bot who are tweeting, retweeting and liking the post which satisfies their set of rules. To get a demo how bots work click here: Golang bot (this bot retweet any tweet with #Golang)

How to prevent/get rid of such spambot's abuse?

These spambots typically abuse on signup forms and subscription forms. Spambots exploit these fields by submitting thousands of email addresses which don't belong to anyone. 

There are some cool techniques to avoid such abuses:

ReCAPTCHA

The best and probably the simplest method one can use to avoid spam and abuse on the website. It is a great of handling abusing traffic which is free of cost.

According to google "reCAPTCHA uses an advanced risk analysis engine and adaptive challenges to keep automated software from engaging in abusive activities on your site". The best part is adding reCAPTCHA bots cannot pass this validation, but the valid users can! Isn't it great?

Confirmed or Double Opt-In 

COI is a procedure where you send out an email for confirmation whether the email belongs to you or not. The email consists of a link which states that you have signup successfully and want to activate the account. Similarly, if you are opting for any newsletter, an email will be sent, and you need to click the link which states that you have Opt-In and want to receive newsletters.

This method will not only help you avoid spambot abuse but also help you gain good quality leads or customers, and it reduces the hard bounce because this COI will make the user correct the misspelt or invalid emails.

Honeypot fields

These fields are extra fields within your form, which are not visible to the human. Bots usually fill all the fields in the form that means if the honeypot fields are filled, they should be immediately marked as invalid or spam.

How to detect spam bots?

Spambots are unique and programmed in such a way that they behave like real users. So, these spambots are not that simple to get detected. But, there are few things you should notice which might help you detect which messages are from Spambot and which are from real users.

  1. Bots are directly or indirectly related to English. Yes, you read it right!. They learn or are preprogrammed in such a way that there you can find a lot of grammatical and spelling mistakes which will be hard for you to get the meaning of the message.
  2. The messages will be from an Unexpected Source. The message will be from a person who is not at all known to you, and this should be treated as a suspicious message which is done to steal your personal data or spread malware.
  3. The message will be Irrelevant. You might have gone through various screenshots and images above where you see someone has posted the movie download link in a community forum.
  4. The message includes an arrow that is aggressively pointing to links. This link is pointed to phishing pages that are developed to collect your personal data or to spread malware.

Best Practices, tools and techniques to get rid of spambot

This section is a combination of both the prevention methods that I have discussed above, and besides those methods, I will be sharing a few more techniques which will give more option to stop spambots.

  1. Blocking Comment Spam: The very first technique is blocking vague comment which is not at all useful for your blog or tutorials. You can use a tool called Akismet to filter the spam comment, and it can be implemented using their API service.
  2. Time-analysis of forms: When it comes to forms, there are only a few fields that need to filled up during signup. Filling up these forms requires some time when a human does. While bots require no time. The difference can be easily seen calculated. You can simply keep an average time for filling up the form. If the form is submitted below-average time, then make sure that it is bot signup. 
  3. The difference between the click on the first field and the submit button will always be greater by human than a bot so adding reCAPTCHA is a better option.
  4. Geolocation based Blocking form: Geolocation blocking is restricting bots from a particular part of the globe. But remember, while blocking bots for a specific location will also block real users for that location. Hence, you should only use this method when you think that this location is generating more problems than benefits.
  5. Blacklisting IPs: This is the most simple and common method to block spambots but till that damage has been done. To stop the further damage you can blacklist the IP or series of IP on the firewall, so no more spamming is done. Before blocking, you can limit IP addresses to particular no of form submission from a specific IP and block once the no has exceeded.
  6. Web Application Firewalls: This tool can help you from XSS attack and SQL injection. An XSS attack is injecting javascript or a block of code on the website for the targeted browser which manipulates the website's contents which an intention to stealing data or cookies. Similarly, SQL injection injects applications with an SQL query. This injection helps the attacker to avoid authentication methods and gets direct access to the database to perform CURD (Create, Update, Read and Delete ) operations. This is a very serious threat. So it is very important to implement Web Application firewalls.

Conclusion

Spambots are everywhere online. All you can do is prevent and add as much filter as you can on your domain. So that these spambots are not affecting your website anymore. I hope this tutorial was useful in sharing information about spambots and ways to handle them effectively. Feel free to share your experience below in comments.

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